As a treat to my friends over on the Eden Butler Facebook page (for reaching 1500 followers) here is the prologue of my latest in the Serenity Series, FINDING SERENITY.
The book launches on MONDAY, APRIL 7 so please check it out. Tell me what you think of the following in the comments.
Happy reading and thank you for your support and encouragement!
Ten years ago
Her father rolled the blunt tight around his wide fingers. The tip pressed flat, small flakes of the herb dropped onto the yellow Formica table top. Between the dark gashes on the surface of the table and the many cigarette burns that made it dingy, Mollie Malone could see her splintered reflection.
She was thirteen with a small gap between her front teeth. Her father could not afford braces, said she would grow into those too large pearly whites. But she feared that her hair would always be a dull brown, that her dark eyes would remain unremarkable. That her life in her father’s too cramped, always filled home would never be more than what it was that night: a constant party, the filtering in and out of outlaw bikers and the people they attract.
“You want some, Mimi?” her father asked her, holding the lit blunt between his index finger and thumb. His graying dark hair was long, slicked back into a tight braid down his back. He had a handsome face, worn now by hard living and too many disappointments, but Mollie thought he was still good looking. She watched the red lines fracture the deep brown of his irises. They held a bloodshot tint that told Mollie how high he was.
He was stoned already, struck careless, irresponsible, by whiskey and weed but Mollie didn’t hesitate to reach through the smoke surrounding him. She figured this was no worse a life than the one that awaited her in Tennessee where her mother tried to ignore the life she had lived in Jackson , pretending she never loved a biker. Where social standing and designer labels were more important to her than the twice a year calls she made to Mollie on her birthday and at Christmas. She took Mollie’s sister, Katie, with her because she was blonde, because, unlike Mollie, she looked nothing like their father. Mollie’s laugh was identical to his and their eyes are a perfect match of whiskey brown. And so Mollie was eager to numb the loss she told herself had nothing to do with her mother’s abandonment, the monotony of the constant party, the strict rules in place for the daughter of the president of the Ministry of Malice motorcycle club.
She pinched the burning paper between her delicate fingers and mimicked her father’s deep inhale, held the smoke in her lungs before a burning cough choked her. The adults around her laughed, tickled by the site of “Lil Mimi” partaking in such grown up activity.
“Bet you won’t do that again anytime soon, huh, baby?” Her father took the blunt out Mollie’s shaking fingers.
His laugh was deep, heady but before the ring of it died down in her ears, the sound of the door being ripped off its hinges leveled all humor from the room.
And then, there was chaos.
Before she had completely exhaled, the crowd of drunks scattered at the invasion of DEA agents storming through their small, brick home. She heard the screams of half-naked women, of her father’s Rottweilers growling, the splinter of wood and the shattering of glass.
“Hide, baby. Now,” her father said and Mollie didn’t hesitate. It was a familiar routine; systematic and instinctive. He taught her to flee from cops, to never trust them, to certainly never speak to them. Ministry club business was private and even the slightest twitch of her eye or the smallest shrug of her shoulders could spill secrets she was not supposed to know. It could take him away from her.
Mollie was small. Her bones were petite and thin and so it was easy for her to bypass the activity, to slink unnoticed between the large, swinging hands, the thundering feet as they shoved her father’s nose down on the floor, as they twisted his wrists behind his back. She managed through the pandemonium, out of the house and into the woodshed, hiding beneath the inky darkness of the night. And there, listening to the barking dogs, the boisterous rebuke from her father and his club brothers, Mollie waited.
The shed was set back from their home, against a corner of the five acre lot surrounded by heavy woods. The Compound, her father called it. It was meant to be a safe haven from wandering eyes, from the agencies and laws that sought to catch them in the act; from other clubs angry about territory, about cash.
Cloistered in the small, metal building with its ceiling dipping in the center and the stacks of logs and rows of axes, Mollie curled beneath a gray tarp, praying that she would be ignored, that her father would fetch her with the morning light. He always had before. She counted the rows of logs, watched the small insects tunnel over them, in them and, she waited. She waited until her eyes grew heavy, until the weed and exhaustion dented her fear and she fell asleep.
It was the quiet that woke her, not her father’s gentle nudge or the sensation of him carrying her back into the house. The echoes of the dogs barking, growling, faded. She knew hours had passed when her eyes flew open and she sat up straight, alert, aware of the silence. She had been forgotten, displaced from the chaos.
Mollie stepped over glass, debris, saw that her home had been destroyed in the authority’s eagerness to uncover some great crime, some proof that her father was a bad, bad man. Windows were cracked, furniture overturned and the dogs had been locked outside, four large animals bumping together in a single kennel. She heard them whine, the scuff of their feet brushing against the black cage and went to them, left the back door open. It was likely, she figured, that the authorities didn’t care. It didn’t matter to them that she was thirteen and had been left alone to fend for herself.
She wiggled her fingers through the cage, letting Zeus, her father’s largest and most fearsome Rottweiler, sniff and lick her knuckles. She thought that she should keep them there. She didn’t want to round them up, chasing them around the yard if the cops made a reappearance and so Mollie fetched the animals some water and a full helping of food and watched them scarf everything down, ignoring her own stomach as it rumbled.
As night crept closer and the mosquitoes popped and fried against the humming blue light of the bug zapper, Mollie abandoned her fear of anyone returning and led the dogs into the house. They slept with her that night. And the next. She tried to keep busy, to ignore that growing worry of being alone, of her father not returning as the hours passed. Zeus refused to move out of her father’s recliner when she swept up the glass. She tidied her room, made peanut butter and chocolate syrup sandwiches, played with the dogs, chased them through the house when they dug into the freshly filled trash bags and then, night came again.
Laying in her bed with dogs at her knees and across her legs, snoring louder than her father ever had, Mollie let her mind wonder, let that worry bubble, grow until she felt the pinpricks of tears warming her cheeks. Surely, someone should have come by now. Spider, at least. He was her father’s Vice President; he would take over when her father was away. He should have come already. But Mollie didn’t see Spider or one of his old ladies in the days that passed. She didn’t see anyone but the fat, lazy dogs eating their weight in whatever she’d thrown out of the fridge.
Then, on the third day, Mollie woke to the sound of Zeus and his brothers howling their warning as a car pulled up the long, gravel driveway. She wrangled the dogs, moved them into their kennel and peeked through the front room blinds, hoping the shadows of the dim morning light would hide her away, at least give her enough time to sneak back to the shed.
She saw the woman’s legs first—long, tanned and then the elegant gray suit she wore. Mollie closed her eyes, wishing the visitor was a cop, that the pinched frown on the woman’s face was instead the concerned smile of a state trooper.
She had not seen her mother in four years. She had never been invited to Tennessee for holidays, but as Mollie watched her mother walk up the front porch and then enter the house without knocking—a linen handkerchief in her hand covering the doorknob—she realized that the woman had aged. Years of heavy drinking and chain smoking lined her face. Her blonde hair had faded and was brittle like hay.
“Hi, baby.” Mollie thought the word was forced, that it was wrong somehow for her mother to call her “baby.”
“What do you want?” She could tell by the determined set of her mother’s shoulders that there would be a battle. Mollie was her father’s child, there was no denying it; she had his chin, his eyes, his odd, piercing laugh. But she was also her mother’s daughter. They had the same urge to debate, to be right at all costs.
That day, the battle lines were drawn, mother against daughter and Mollie knew she would get no leeway and certainly no happy reunion.
“I’ve come to take you home.” Her mother moved into the room, eyes fanning over Mollie’s half attempted clean up. There was trash on the kitchen floor that the dogs had ripped into the night before. Mollie had told herself she’d clean it in the morning, but her mother’s abrupt appearance deferred her. The kitchen was clean, but the paint was old, the same pale yellow her mother had painted it years before. Mollie could see it all in her mother’s eyes—nothing had changed since she had left. When the woman’s gaze locked onto the dogs growling through the opened backdoor, she walked toward it, slamming it shut as she glared at the Rottweilers. “Get your things. We’re going home.” She didn’t bother looking at Mollie when she delivered her order.
“I am home.” Mollie didn’t care that her mother’s face was exaggerated, the lines deepened when she frowned.
“This is no place for a thirteen year-old girl, Mollie. Your father has gotten himself into some serious trouble. And unless you want to end up in the system, then I’m your only choice.”
Mollie knew it would have been pointless to argue. Her father had been gone a while, longer than she expected and even the women who straggled about, hoping to be made an official “Old Lady” weren’t there to watch her. And they were always there.
She tried to ignore her mother’s pinched look of disgust. Her eyes scanned the yard through the window, to the loose bits of car engines and motorcycle parts that were scattered amid broken fencing and rusted swings. She knew what her mother thought; it’s what everyone thought—kids at school, social workers who attempted to pull Mollie from the only home she’d ever known: that they were trash. Mollie lived in squalor, they all thought. She was surrounded by a criminal element and needed rescuing.
But they didn’t know what family was. They didn’t know that Mollie was safer at the Compound than she would have been anywhere else in the world. They didn’t know what it was to have fifteen burly men watch over you like you were their own. They didn’t know that her father always made sure she’d completed her homework, that her teeth were cavity free, that when he hugged her, she could feel how much he loved her, how he would have killed to protect her without a moment’s hesitation.
They didn’t know that family was more than blood and history, but trust, companionship and being there every day.
“Let’s go,” her mother said, her voice stern, demanding.
Mollie let her anger calm, let it collect and pool into her heart. It would have been pointless to fight the woman on this. It would most likely mean more trouble than Mollie could handle without backup.
“I’m only staying until Daddy is out.” She didn’t like her mother’s small sneer or how her smile echoed concession.
“Sure, baby, sure.”
Mollie followed the woman away from the whining dogs, from the cluster of rubbish and trash that circled her home.
Ten Years Later
Layla will not shut up.
Mollie nods to herself knowing her best friend cannot see her through the phone, but the gesture is an old habit, familiar like the jarring voice that keeps yammering in her ear. The silver Galaxy cell phone is cold against her cheek and Mollie berates herself for not bringing earbuds on her pointless little road trip. Feeling careless for using her phone while driving, she hits the speaker button and sets the phone in her cup holder. Her best friend is still talking—“did he hug you when you got there?” and “how close did he stand to you?” slip out before Mollie can offer a single reply. She stops Layla when her friend starts a new mass of queries; these having something to do with how many times Vaughn Winchester frowned.
“Layla, he didn’t really say much.”
“He had to say something,” Layla insists. “You drove half an hour to bring him his hoodie.”
The quick squeal of Mollie’s breaks matches her best friend’s whine when she throws her car into park. She lets her breath come slow, easy, as Layla continues to fire off a dozen more questions, none of which Mollie is able to answer. When Layla starts in again, this time asking something about Vaughn’s facial expressions, Mollie interrupts her.
“He said thanks, but I could tell he was uncomfortable with me being there.”
Vaughn had, in fact, been polite, if not a bit distant to Mollie. That certainly hadn’t been the case last fall when she first laid eyes on him at the starting line of the annual Dirty Dash endurance race. One glimpse at him, his presence trumpeted in with the boom of his deep voice, and Mollie had a solitary, instant thought: Mine.
He had a domineering physique, a stature that overpowered; thick, corded arms and a wide chest, penetrating cobalt eyes and strawberry blonde hair that made Mollie instantly eager to discover if it was as soft as it looked. His face was a miracle, a ridiculous paradigm of All-American Man—strong, angular jaw that was sharp like a razor’s edge and high, defined cheekbones. He kept scruff on his face and when she saw him today, that scruff had grown fuller, thicker and only made him look all the more handsome. At the Dash, he came in like a superhero, pumping the runners into a frenzy before the race and then rescuing Mollie when she fell and broke her finger. He even gave her his USMC hoodie when the cold bit into her bones and the pain in her throbbing finger left her shaking.
That day, Mollie thought she felt something electric snaking between them. It was a connection she was sure she wasn’t inventing; something she wanted to explore further. He’d never been to a rugby match and being a good Cavanagh girl, Mollie invited him to the match before regionals. She’d admit that her motives were ulterior. She couldn’t have cared less about the match, but wanted to see him again, hoped it would lead to him asking her out. He’d loved the game, seemed to enjoy her company, even exchanged numbers, but when she subtly mentioned them catching a coffee the next weekend, Vaughn begged off, saying he’d be out of town for at least two months. After that, she’d done something she’d never admit to Layla or any of her other friends. She found him on Facebook and took to pathetically stalking his account; not friending him, not pursuing, but still keeping tabs on him and that made her feel like an immature idiot.
Just a few days ago, during her morning check of his account, Mollie saw that he had returned to Maryville. A quick “So good to be home” update on his status, and she let slip to Layla that he was back. That had been mistake One. Her best friend meant well, but she was relentless and bossy, and the twin insistences of Layla’s encouragement and her own impatience that Vaughn had not called her, found Mollie jumping in her car with his hoodie on the passenger seat.
When she surprised him at his business, walking into the Crossfit studio like she was the one who owned the place, hoodie swinging from her hands, his expression told her she should have listened to her instinct. She saw the obvious shock on his face when she walked toward him, heard the low inflection of his voice, and how the resonance of each syllable lowered with each step she took.
Just the memory has her face warming in embarrassment.
Mollie slams her car door shut and has to pinch the phone between her shoulder and chin as she tugs her bag up her arm. “He kept saying shit like ‘you’re so sweet’ and I’m pretty sure he called me ‘little girl’ under his breath.”
“That’s not good,” Layla says, her voice humming through the receiver.
“I told you I shouldn’t have gone.”
“Well, he hadn’t called. You needed to find out where his head was.”
Mollie laughs. “His head was on his clients. All those cut, hot girls working out around us as Vaughn refused to make eye contact with me.”
“He’s an idiot if he’s not into you, Mollie.”
She feels her chest tighten with a swell of gratitude. Layla has been her best friend for nine years. Of course she’s biased, but Mollie never tires of hearing Layla’s support. “Thanks, I couldn’t agree more.”
Layla starts in again, more theories on why Vaughn had acted cool, uninterested when Mollie drove to Maryville to return his hoodie. She had hung onto the sweatshirt for months and, pitifully, had even refrained from washing it until his heavy masculine smell began to fade. Visiting him today went against her better judgment, but Layla is convincing. Sweet, loyal and loud, but so convincing.
“Umhmm,” Mollie says to yet another of Layla’s theories, but she isn’t listening to what her best friend is talking about. She’s too focused on getting into her apartment, in taking in the cool summer breeze that whips around her bare arms.
When her mother dragged her from her father’s home in Mississippi to this sleepy little town, Mollie had hated everything about Cavanagh, from the obsessive discussions about rugby to the Irish traditions that were so ingrained into this community. But then, 8th grade started up and Mollie got her period a few days in, just before lunch. The strange and nosy girl from her Social Studies class, Layla Mullens, caught her crying in the girl’s bathroom, hiding in a stall. Layla told Mollie things she’d never known, since her mother never bothered to explain the changes that would happen to her body and the only mildly uncomfortable chat she’d ever had with her father concerned boys and why she should never let them touch her boobs. But Layla was her intrusive rescuer that day and told her all about Midol and tampons and how she was now a woman. She introduced Mollie to Sayo and Autumn, and the crushing loneliness she felt in her mother’s home was replaced by appreciation for her new friends, and the town that slowly began to grow on her. She softened, began to understand the appeal of Cavanagh, to enjoy the quiet calm of the people, of the beautiful mountains that wrapped around the city limits.
Mollie looks up, past the trees and street lamps to stare out into the distant peaks and ridges of the mountains and she releases a smile, feeling calmer now, despite Layla’s constant blabbing. Cavanagh is home. It’s where her friends are, where her university is, and though her father is nowhere near her, it’s become a reminder of family.
“Are you listening to me?” Layla screeches.
“What? Of course.”
“Oh my God, you so are not.” Layla’s breath vibrates against the speaker. “I said, you should cool off for a while. Don’t call him—”
“I wasn’t going to.”
“Don’t go see him,” her best friend continues as though Mollie hadn’t uttered a sound. “Make him come to you.”
When Mrs. Varela, Mollie’s elderly neighbor, struggles up the steps with her groceries, Mollie is right behind her. “Let me help you,” she says to the old woman and opens the door to their building.
“Such a sweet girl, Mollie Malone,” the old woman says.
“Who is that?” Layla’s voice is so loud, Mollie winces against the sound.
“Let me call you back. Five minutes,” she tells her best friend then slips the phone in her back pocket.
The bags in Mrs. Varela’s veiny hands swing precariously close to the tips of her fingers. She barely maintains her hold and Mollie grabs the heaviest and fullest of the bags before they fall onto the stone steps. The old woman’s smile is wide, her false teeth a bit weathered and yellowed by too much coffee, likely the occasional cigarette. Mollie nods the woman through the entrance, leans against the glass door to let Mrs. Varela slip into the foyer.
“I can manage from here, mija,” but Mollie ignores her, jerks her chin and grins to let the woman know she’ll see her and the bags safely into her apartment.
Mrs. Varela’s apartment is cluttered. There are stacks of unwashed dishes on the counters and laundry set into large, unfolded piles around her sofa. At the old woman’s waiting smile, a clear dismissal, Mollie again nods, but can’t seem to help herself from offering assistance. “Mrs. Varela, give me a little bit and I’ll come and help you put these away.”
“No, nina, I can manage.” The old woman’s eyes shift, and a quick brush of color creeps across her cheeks.
“It’s no trouble at all. Just let me go put my things away and I’ll be right back.”
“Oh, sweetheart, you don’t have to—”
“I want to. Besides, you have to tell me what I missed on Maria de los Barrios today. I have to know if Maria finds her son.” Mollie hurries out of the woman’s apartment before she can refuse her again. “I won’t be ten minutes.”
The large, oak door thumps against the frame as Mollie closes it and moves toward her apartment, just three doors down. She retrieves her phone and pushes on the icon with Layla’s name, hearing her best friend pick up after the second ring.
“Sorry about that. I had to help Mrs. Varela with her bags” she says into her phone.
“You shooting for Sainthood or something?”
“Shut up. You’d do the same.”
Her best friend laughs. “I absolutely would not. I am lazy as hell.”
Mollie agrees, remembering how often Layla’s mother has lectured her best friend about her lack of housekeeping skills.
“Hey, what are you doing later? I’m in the mood for Chinese and I don’t…” She stops just outside of her door breathing into her phone. “Hmm.”
The splinter of light beneath her doorway is faint. It turns her Welcome mat a tinged yellow and Mollie instantly recognizes it as the low watt bulb in her tiny foyer. “That’s weird. I thought I turned everything off when I left.” Mollie takes a step and her confusion deepens as she notices that her door is open.
“What is it?”
She doesn’t answer her friend, feeling the cold prickle of warning inch up her neck. “My front door…it’s open.”
“Huh? Wait. What’s going on?” Layla’s voice breaks Mollie from her steady creep forward.
“Shh, hold on.”
“Don’t you dare go in there. I’m serious, Mollie. Do not go in there if the door is open.”
“It’s probably just the guy replacing the storm windows; you know that my Super never lets me know ahead of time when someone is going to working in my apartment. I’m sure it’s nothing…” There is no real clamor of noise as she listens at her door, no clear sign that tells her an intruder is still nosing through her home. But when her foot brushes against the door and the hinges whine, Mollie’s back stiffens, her grip on her phone clamps tight at the soft shuffle of feet, the slight moan of the floorboards. Her heart instantly races. “Someone’s in there,” she whispers.
“Mollie! For the love of God, go call the cops.” Mollie’s not sure why Layla is whispering. It’s not like she can be heard by whoever is in the apartment.
“Calm down, will you?” She drops her bag to the floor digging in her jeans for the pocketknife she is never without. “If there’s an asshole in my apartment, I’m gonna find out who he is before the cops show up.”
“I’m calling Walter.”
“Don’t you freakin’ dare, Layla. I don’t need your Rent-A-Cop boyfriend coming here and passing judgment on me yet again.”
“Mollie, please. He can help.”
She remembers Walter’s brand of help, which usually involves telling whoever he’s helping why they’re idiots.
“I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself.” Mollie flicks open the knife’s blade and winces at the echo it makes in the quiet foyer. She hears the squeak of tennis shoes and furniture moving. Whoever they are, they are unconcerned about being discovered. And noisy as hell. She manages to take three full steps, ignoring Layla’s low whispered demands to retreat, before she sees two intruders darting across her living room. “Hey!” In the arms of one there are boxes of CDs, a few stray wires. But before Mollie can stop the guy from leaving her apartment, his accomplice turns toward her. “What the hell are you doing in my place?” she yells, then drops her phone as the bastard runs straight for her. “You son of a bitch!” She lunges, nicks his arm before she spots an iron pipe swinging right toward her face. There is quick crack against her head and then, everything goes black.
“Mollie!” Layla screams from the downed phone. “Mollie, what happened?”
She is in a tunnel, her body squeezed and her head throbbing. Her equilibrium is skewed. She feels as if she is floating, like there is a cloud absorbing her awareness and making her vision blur. Around her are voices, some familiar, some a cadence that sounds distant, unusual.
“Ma’am?” one voice says, but the pitch is muffled as though the words are being spoken from yards away. “Miss Malone, can you hear me?”
“Mollie, wake the hell up.” That voice she knows. No one can do jarring and bossy like Layla.
“Miss, please. Let us handle this.”
There are fragments of light and small, black dots scampering around her eyes when Mollie blinks. All is a hazy, unfocused vapor, the figures around her are large and small shadows and then, a man with a thick, black beard leans down inches from her face. His breath is a mix of coffee and spearmint gum.
“Can you hear me?” The boom of this man’s deep voice has Mollie leaning away.
“Yeah,” she manages. Her own voice sounds rough, a rasp caught in her throat as though it is not accustomed to use. She blinks several more times and her vision focuses, becomes sharp once more. She takes in the scene, the cops lingering by the door, talking to a frightened, worried-looking Mrs. Varela. Mollie gives the old woman a nervous wave, a quick smile that she hopes puts her at ease. The EMT helps her to her feet and Mollie spots Layla standing with her arms tight around her stomach, then to Autumn and her boyfriend Declan who are giving Mollie anxious frowns. “I’m fine,” she says to her friends, trying to alleviate their concern. Her head feels as swollen as an overinflated balloon and her face throbs like a heartbeat.
She barely notices when the EMT takes her pulse, flashes a small light in her eyes, when his cold, gloved fingers press against her neck. Finally, his examination done, the bearded man with the coffee breath smiles at her and pulls the blood pressure cuff from her left arm. “You’ll need to ice that cheek and check in with your doctor if you experience any dizziness, but otherwise, you should be okay.”
“We’ll make sure she does,” Autumn says, standing next to Mollie to grab her hand. All of her friends are worriers. Autumn is a master at it. When the EMTs have made for the door, Autumn draws Mollie’s attention to her. “Are you sure you’re alright? You got hit pretty hard.” The redhead’s chin jerks once, motioning toward Mollie’s cheek which is presently beating like a bass drum.
Mollie instantly jerks her hand away from the tender lump she feels on her cheekbone. “Damn. Got me good, didn’t he?”
“Don’t worry about that, love. We’ll find that arsehole,” Declan says. If Mollie didn’t know the Irishman personally, she’d be intimated by the sharp scowl that covers his face. Since he and Autumn began dating, actually just before that, Declan has made it his business to watch over each of them. He’s become a friend, an unofficial bodyguard regardless of Mollie and her friends’ protest that they can take care of themselves. Also, Declan’s has the finest collection of comics Mollie has ever seen. Couple that with how he looks running around the pitch shirtless and you have near perfection. Too bad he’s spoken for, Mollie thinks, smiling at what a lucky little bitch her friend is. Besides, Autumn and Declan are crazy for each other. Mollie finds it highly disgusting how they carry on.
“Thanks, Deco,” she says to the Irishman, hoping her relief is not too obvious in her voice. “I appreciate the offer.”
“That’s something you should leave to us,” Mollie hears behind her. She turns to see a cop nod at her and she can’t help it, her back instantly goes up. “Miss, we need your statement.”
“Can’t you give her a minute, mate? She’s had a rough night,” Declan says, straightening his shoulders.
Mollie walks away from the cop, doesn’t look him in the eyes and lets Layla fuss over her. “You should talk to them.”
“I will.” A quick glance over her shoulder to reassure the officer. “I just need to figure out what kind of truck ran me over.”
“Is anything missing?” The cop is young, a little pudgy around the middle, but his face is kind and if she could let the instinct of warning leave her mind, Mollie might be able to lose the bit of caution she feels seeing all the officers in her apartment.
The thieves left her place in a mess. Her worn, green sofa is missing its cushions and the second hand steamer trunk she uses as a coffee table is open and on its side. She is thinking about the books scattered over the wood floors and how her own comic book collection has been haphazardly strewn from her now broken bookshelf, when her thoughts immediately focus on her missing DJ equipment.
The alcove near her window is completely vacant. Stray wires from her DJ rack lay on the floor like a twisted coiled mess and speakers that this morning were stacked and neat, are all missing. There are no cases of records or rows of CDs neatly arranged on the alcove shelves.
“It’s all gone.” Mollie nods to the empty space that once held her equipment, trying to suppress the cringe on her face. She didn’t want her friends to see her so upset. “All of it. My records, my CDs, my speakers, media players, mixers, light board. Damn it. It’s all gone.”
“So some stereo equipment is missing, anything else, Miss?” the young cop asks her.
Mollie wants to cry. She wants the quick burn in her stomach to settle so she doesn’t feel so near to vomiting. Stereo equipment? This guy had no clue. “It’s not just stereo equipment.” She faces the cop, frowning. “I’m a DJ. It was my livelihood. There is about fifteen grand in equipment missing. It took me years and years to get this stuff together.” She picks up a cord from the floor, trying to suppress the sinking feeling in her chest. A few cords and lonely plugs is all that is left of the years she saved and bartered to build up her equipment. There was a first pressing Bessie Smith’s “Downhearted Blues” that took her two years to track down. Gone. The light board she sweet talked a retired Rolling Stones sound engineer into selling to her three years ago, yeah, that’s gone too. She wants to cry. She wants to punch something. Instead, she lowers her shoulders and levels a stare at the curious cop. He’s got a small note pad in his hand and is giving Mollie an expression that tells her he doesn’t understand what she’s getting so worked up about.
“They took everything.” She starts to tear up, unable to suppress the quick shake in her hands. Layla is at her side, touching her elbow. “Did y’all catch them?” she asks the cop.
“Them?” The pudgy cop moves forward, clearly surprised to discover this robbery wasn’t a one-man job.
“Yeah. Two of them. One lifted my stuff, the other one came at me with some kind of pipe. If it had been one guy maybe I could have taken him, but I was caught off guard.”
The cop’s pen moves in furious scribbles across the page of his small notebook and Mollie rebuffs Autumn’s immediate gestures toward her injured cheek.
“We didn’t know about the second guy, but we dusted for fingerprints, got a few good ones. Did you get a good look at either of them?”
“Not really. It happened so fast and they both were wearing hoods.” The sharp ache in her cheek throbs and Mollie touches the tender skin there. “The one that swung at me was a white guy from what I could tell. Tall, probably around six feet. Stocky, but not fat or built.” She sits down on her recliner, slumping. “The other one got out of here too fast for me to notice much else but his arms full of my shit.” She looks at Layla and Autumn. “Damn it. What the hell am I gonna do now?” Right then, when she looks at her friends and the small dips of worry pulling down their mouths, Mollie thinks she won’t be able to hold back her tears. God, what would Daddy say about this? she thinks. Well, he’d be angling to find those punks and kick their asses, but first, he’d tell me to suck it up. To get even, not mad. He’d tell me there isn’t time for tears. Especially not in front of a bunch of cops.
Autumn nods Declan away and he guides the cop from them, likely grilling the man about what their next move would be. But Mollie isn’t naïve. She knows they won’t look too hard. Burglaries aren’t uncommon in Cavanagh. College town, lots of kids, it’s not unheard of and for the most part, the local cops rarely solve these cases, unless, of course, something from the University has been taken. A single girl with a bunch of “stereo equipment” won’t matter to them. She isn’t like Layla or Autumn. Her folks are nobodies and her name pulls zero weight.
“You’ll stay with me tonight.” Layla’s voice goes soft, a bit demanding but Mollie knows the sincerity isn’t forced. Her best friend is genuinely concerned. When she starts to protest, Layla shakes her head. “No, don’t argue. You’ll stay with me and we’ll go in the morning to file your report. Walter said—” one small glare cut to Layla at the mention of her boyfriend’s name and the blonde goes mute. Mollie doesn’t like him. Layla knows this. “Anyway, we’ll figure this out.”
“How?” Mollie knows there is a whine attached to the question, but thoughts of her having no livelihood, no means to support herself has left her at a loss. The lingering burn in her eyes quickly disappears and she is struck by a consuming sensation of anger. “I have two gigs scheduled for this weekend. Fifteen hundred a piece. That’s rent and bill money for two months.”
“You don’t have anything saved up? What about your insurance?” Leave it to Autumn to sound like a grown up. But Mollie doesn’t snap at her friend, doesn’t pull back from her when the redhead kneels next to her and takes her hand.
“I do, but that’s not going to last forever and the insurance claim will take at least a month.”
Layla comes to sit on the arm of the recliner and moves the hair out of Mollie’s eyes. “What about your mom?”
She can’t help the laugh that bubbles out of her throat. God, her mother will be freaking giddy when she hears about this. She’s forever telling Mollie about the dangers of living on her own. Not to mention the disapproving frown she always gives her when anyone mentions her DJing. “There is no way I’m asking her for shit. It’s not worth the lecture.”
Layla opens her mouth again, likely trying to suggest something else that Mollie finds ridiculous, but Autumn cuts her off with a wave of her hand. “We’ll get it straightened out, honey. Don’t worry. Not tonight anyway.”
Mollie bought her first mixing board at nineteen. She’d worked at Dillinger’s Mortuary for a solid year, assisting Mr. Dillinger in funeral prep because he paid her a lot of money since he couldn’t find anyone willing to work over night. Mollie hated that job, but it allowed her to save her cash quickly. When she bought that first board and landed a few gigs, she’d made enough to quit the funeral home and DJ whenever she wanted. She loved the loud thump of the music mixing with her heartbeat, the rhythmic movement of her body swaying with the crowd, with the pulse of each track. It was freeing. It was real and the sound of laughter, of cheers was worth that year of putting make-up on dead bodies and repressing bile at the sight of crash victims.
Now, it was over. All gone. She knew it wasn’t a forever occupation, she was in college for a reason, but she wasn’t quite ready to leave it behind. These assholes came into her home tonight and rocked her world. They’d stripped away the joy she’d secured for herself, that hard fought struggle of doing something that actually left a smile on her face. It was done. Thieves came into her home and stole her freedom, took away her comfort, her solitude in this place.
“I’ll call Marco,” his face immediately coming to mind when she thought about the other DJs and how’d they react to this robbery. “He’s been looking for some gigs and I know he’ll hear about anyone trying to sell equipment.”
“Cavanagh is tiny, Molls. If someone’s trying to sell your stuff then you’ll hear about it,” Autumn says.
“Who’d be stupid enough to sell it here?” It’s not what she would do. Hell, that was common sense. Her dad had taught her the finer points of selling things you weren’t supposed to have. “They’d probably try Knoxville or even Chattanooga.”
“Come on.” Layla helps her out of her chair. “Pack a bag and let’s get you home.”
Home. Mollie glances around her disaster of an apartment. This was her home, her first brush of independence, the first place she felt truly free from her mother’s domineering commands and expectations. Now it felt awkward and suspect. The thieves took more than her livelihood; they had taken her peace of mind.