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A Secret To Kill For Secret & Lies Series Book 1

Updated: Jun 19, 2018

Excerpt


Secrets can ruin lives, break bonds, and destroy families.

Some secrets are so important they are worth killing for.



Chapter One

April

Washington D.C.

“Erin, can you please come into my office,” my supervisor Paul asks. I hang up the phone, push away from the desk, and walk down the hall to his office. What the hell does he want now? If he tells me one more time we need to review the evidence I’m going to scream. I can only look at rope samples so many times. I know he’s under a lot of pressure from the top brass, the press, and every politician in D.C. We already work twelve-hour shifts. What more does he want? This fucker is smart, leaving only what he wants us to find, nothing more.

I knock on the door. “Come in,” Paul yells. Paul looks up from his computer, showing every one of his sixty years. Dark bags under his chocolate brown eyes, blond hair that is thinner on top, more lines showing on his face, and he has developed a small beer belly from spending one too many nights at the cop bar down the street.

“You wanted to see me, Sir,” I ask as I sit in the chair across from him.

“Yes, have you seen today’s newspaper?”

“No, Sir,” I say, confused why he called me into his office to talk about today’s newspaper.

“That’s what I thought,” Paul says, placing today’s newspaper on his desk sliding it over to me. “Please read today’s front page.”

The D.C. Carver continues to outsmart the FBI

By Bane Davis

The D.C. Carver, aptly named for the way he leaves the bodies of victims he kidnaps and tortures. The D.C. Carver has been terrorizing the people of Washington D.C. for more than two years now. Stocking, kidnapping, torturing, and killing the wives of Congressmen, Senators, and Lobbyists. There have been six known victims. Sally Wright, the wife of Congressman Wright from Virginia. Maria Martinez, the wife of Congressman Martinez from New Mexico. Isabela Garcia, the wife of late Senator Garcia from California. Elizabeth Smith, the wife of Senator Smith from Montana. Ava Owen, the wife of Lobbyist John Owen. The most recent victim of the D.C. Carver is Mia Johnson, the wife of Lobbyist Liam Johnson. How many more victims will there be? When will the D.C. Carver be brought to justice?

What does the FBI have on the D.C. Carver to bring him or her to justice? According to Erin Murphy of the FBI, they have very little information. Agent Murphy told me the D.C. Carver leaves no traces of DNA or fingerprints on the few items found by the FBI.

The FBI has a detailed profile on the D.C. Carver to help narrow the suspect pool. According to the profile, he is a white male in his late twenties or early thirties. It is projected his father once held a position as a congressman or other government official. His mother is predicted to be a trophy wife more focused on her husband’s career than her son. The profile also suggests he may be a government official or works closely with government officials. One thing is clear; The D.C. Carver is here to stay until he or she chooses to leave.

I stare at the paper in disbelief. This has to be a joke, a terrible joke. There is no way Bane would do this to me; he loves me.

“Can you please explain this?” Paul asks, as his eyes study my face, searching for any tells that I’m lying to him about the article.

With more confidence than I feel, I tell him, “I have no idea why Bane cited me as his source. I have not disclosed any case information to anyone and not to the press.” My heart is beating so fast I think I may pass out.

“You are in a relationship with the journalist who wrote this article, correct?”

“Yes, Sir, but he knew I couldn’t talk about work. I never told Bane anything. And he knew better than to ask.” I swear to God, when I find Bane, I’m going to kick his ass!

“Then how the fuck did he get information on an active case? Why the hell did he cite you as the source of information?” Paul asks standing quickly and kicking his chair over. Paul leans over his desk, pounding his fist, glaring at me, “You better have evidence this is a lie, or you are not only off this case, you are fired.”

I think quickly, running through everything Bane and I talked about, but there is nothing. The only thing I have to prove I didn’t release the information is my word, and that will not help. “I only have my word, Sir. I did not tell Bane Davis one word about this case. The article is a lie.”

Paul rights his chair before sitting down, shaking his head, “Erin, I know how much working for the FBI means to you, but with no proof other than your word, I have to let you go.”

“But Paul, I didn’t do this! I would never put a case in jeopardy by giving information to the press. You know this,” I beg. This cannot be happening! I have worked my whole life to be at the FBI, to follow in my father and grandfather’s footsteps. I’m going to kill Bane when I find him!

“I tried Erin, but there is nothing I can do. Not even the Director has enough pull to get you out of the trouble you’re in.”

There is a knock on the door, Paul yells for them to enter. As I turn to see who it is, two large men join us. Turning my attention back to Paul, “I need your badge and service weapon, Erin. These agents,” he gestures behind me, “are here to escort you back to your desk. Please remove any personal belongings, then they will escort you from the building.”

How the fuck am I going to fight this? I have to find proof I had nothing to do with the article. I pull my service weapon from its holster, placing it on Paul’s desk along with my badge. There has to be a way to turn this around. I turn to follow the agents to my office when Paul calls my name.

“Erin, I am very sorry this happened. You are a great agent, and the FBI will not be the same without you.”

“I will be back with the proof you need,” I tell him as I storm out of his office, my two escorts hot on my heels.

***

My first stop after being tossed from the Hoover building is Bane’s apartment. That fucker is going to answer for this bullshit! I will gladly go to jail for beating the truth from his lying mouth! I drive past his building to find a gaggle of reporters outside, waiting to talk to him; the vultures will have to wait their turn. Parking far enough away to not be spotted, I pull on a Nationals baseball cap, tucking my red locks under it, then fish my sunglass from my purse. Using the service entrance at the rear of the building I take the stairs two at a time, to Bane’s third-floor apartment.

“Open the fucking door, Bane,” I yell at the top of my lungs, pounding on his door. “Don’t be a fucking pussy,” I scream kicking the door. After ten minutes of shouting and kicking, Bane’s neighbor, Dan comes home.

“Hey, Erin. Bane’s not here. He’s out of the country for a few weeks.”

“Fuck, do you have a key? I um…left some important documents inside I need for work.”

“Sure, give me a sec, and I’ll let you in.” Dan disappears into his apartment, coming back a minute later with the key, to unlock the door.

“Thank you for this; I’ll lock up before I leave,” I promise.

“No problem,” he says leaving me to go through Bane’s stuff. I open the door, and it’s empty. There is nothing, not even a dust bunny. I walk through this once happy home, looking for anything he may have missed, but everything is gone. Wandering into the kitchen, desperate to find anything Bane might have left behind. Sitting on the counter is a note addressed to me:

Erin,

I know you are pissed about the article even though we both know it’s a lie. You love your job too much and wouldn’t tell me shit. I am sorrier than you will ever understand, but I had no choice. I wish I could say more, but I can’t risk it. I know you won’t believe me, but I do love you. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to say goodbye in person.

Love you lots,

Bane

“No, No, No, No,” I tell the empty apartment as I slide down the fridge, sitting on the cold tile floor while angry tears stream down my cheeks. Last week everything was perfect. Bane took me to dinner at the W Hotel followed by drinks and dancing at a local piano bar. We finished the night at his place where we made love. Once we were both sated, Bane hugged me to his chest, lightly running his fingers up and down my spine, describing our future together.

“We will have a huge wedding because my father will insist on inviting the Congressmen and Senators he needs to schmooze. Then I’m whisking you away to Bora Bora for a month-long honeymoon. When you’re ready, I want to buy a big house, with a big yard, outside the city and fill it with as many kids as you will give me.” I wasn’t sold on the kid part, but he always said how much he wanted to have two boys and a girl. Was it all just one big lie to keep me coming back for more? Who plans out their future, then writes an article that destroys all their plans?

I dry my tears with the back of my hand, then pull my phone from my pocket to call him. It rings once, then a recorded message states that this number is no longer in service. “Why? Why would you do this to me, Bane?” I ask the empty room, pulling my knees to my chest, letting the tears fall again. I should have listened to Cian, my brother; Bane is an asshole. I should have never given him the time of day.

I’m not sure how long I sat on the floor before I found the strength to pick myself up, stuffing my phone back into my pocket. Maybe Bane’s letter will be enough to clear my name and clean up the mess he made. Locking the door behind me, I retrace my path to my car. Removing my hat and sunglasses, I call Paul. It rings four times before the voicemail picks up, “Paul, this is Erin. I have something I think may help clear my name. Please call me as soon as you can,” I end the call, then drive home.

As I drive past my apartment complex to the parking garage, I see a horde of reporters and protesters camped out. “How the hell did they find my address?” I bypass the parking garage to park in a privately-owned garage down the block. Paying the attendant for a month’s worth of parking, find a spot, then walk home. I cut through the garage to the private entrance, walking the four flights of stairs to my apartment. Unlocking the door of my apartment, I hear the phone ring. Rushing into the kitchen to answer it with a breathless, “Hello?”

“Is this Erin Murphy?” An unfamiliar deep male voice asks.

“Yes, who’s asking?”

“This is Robert Santo from Channel Five News. I would like you to ask you some questions about the story Bane Davis wrote.”

“No comment,” I reply slamming the phone into the receiver. Immediately it rings again. Answering it with a quick, “What do you want?” a woman identifies herself as a report from another local news station wanting a statement. “Fuck off,” I answer slamming the phone down. The damn thing rings again. Pissed, I rip the cord from the wall, throwing the phone in the trash. I pull my favorite bottle of whiskey from the freezer and swallow a quarter of the bottle in on gulp. Marching into the bedroom, with my bottle of whiskey in hand, I wrench open the drawer Bane kept his things in, searching for anything that may help me get my job back. But it’s empty; all of his stuff is gone. I open the next drawer to find a note and a small maroon velvet box.

Erin,

I know that you went to my apartment first and saw my note. But in case you are too pissed at me to give a shit, I wanted you to know how sorry I am. I respect you and your job too much, but I had no choice. He would have killed my family and me if I didn’t do what he asked. I love you with all my heart. You may not trust me, but that is the truth. To prove it, I bought this ring two months ago. I never worked up the courage to ask you to marry me. Now I’m glad I didn’t. I hope one day you will find it in your heart to forgive me.

I love you,

Bane

I open the Helzberg ring box to find a one-carat black and white diamond halo engagement ring. I gasp, my hand flying to cover my mouth; it’s the exact ring I would pick out myself. “If you loved me, how could you do this to me?” I ask, falling onto the bed, letting sorrow, anger, and pain swallow me whole. While my world falls apart around me, my phone beeps with an incoming text. I look at the screen, hoping it’s Bane telling me this is a bad joke. But it’s from an unknown number:

Unknown Number: I’m sorry my love, but this is the only way.

Ignoring the text, I flop my face down into my pillow, crying until I have no more tears.

Chapter Two

Stumbling into the bathroom, I take the hottest shower I can stand. I need to wash the defeat off of me and rebuild my strength. Wetting my hair, I hear what sounds like a chair scraping across the floor. Stepping out from under the water, I poke my head out, listening for another sound of someone in the house. Shrugging it off as my neighbor upstairs, I reach for the shampoo, pour some in my hand and begin to massage it into my long red locks. Before I can step back out from under the water, I hear the front door close. Poking my head out of the shower curtain, I yell, “Bane? Is that you?” I listen, but no one answers. Again, I step under the water to rinse the shampoo from my hair. As I see a shadow walk past the open bathroom door, I jump in surprise and scream “Bane, you fucking coward, you better have a good reason for what you did.” When I throw the shower curtain to the side, I find no one standing there. I hear the neighbor’s doors slam. “I need to calm down before I give myself a heart attack,” I mumble to no one.

Rinsing the soap from my body, I devise a plan. First, I need to talk to Paul. Next, I need to find Bane. I’ll call his parent’s house. They may know where he is or how to contact him. If they don’t know, maybe his editor will know something. I finish my shower, dry off, and pull on a t-shirt and a pair of sweats, twisting my hair into a messy bun.

Once I’m clean I feel more like myself, I pick my cell off the bed, the whiskey bottle from the nightstand, and then stomp into the living room, plopping onto the couch. Taking a swig of whiskey, I call Paul. It rings four times before it goes to voicemail again. “Damn it, Paul, answer your damn phone. I found two notes from Bane. I think they might be enough to clear my name. Call me ASAP.” Taking another swig of whiskey, I muster up the courage to call Bane’s father, Joshua Davis. The line rings twice before he answers with a quick, “Hello?”

“Mr. Davis, this is Erin Murphy.”

“Yes, Erin. What can I do for you? I’m busy trying to deal with the fall out my son left behind.”

“That’s why I’m calling. Have you heard from Bane? I really need to talk to him, and his number has been disconnected.”

“I’m sorry Erin, but he left the country two days ago. If I had known what he was running from, I would have made him stay and face the music on his own. As it is, I have to field his calls about that damn article. I’m assuming you are doing the same.”

God damn it, if I ever see Bane again, I will kill him! “Yes, Sir. That’s why I need to speak to Bane. I never gave him any of the information. And because of his lies, I lost my job. And on top of fielding calls, I also have protesters and reporters camped outside my apartment building.”

“I’m truly sorry. If I hear from my good for nothing son, I’ll have him call you,” Mr. Davis tells me before hanging up the phone.

“Fuck,” I say tossing the phone to the couch. Feeling defeated, I do the only thing I can do, drink. I have one more call to make, but the odds are not in my favor. He will either have nothing or bad news. Downing some more liquid courage, I pick my phone up and call Bane’s editor.

“Editor,” a scratchy male voice barks out.

“This is Erin Murphy,” I reply.

“What can I do for you, Ms. Murphy?”

“I would like you to retract the story Bane wrote. It’s a lie, and I have two notes from him stating such.”

“Really? Because I have a signed affidavit from you saying you provided truthful information of your own free will. So, no, I won’t retract the story,” he tells me, ending the call.

“Goddamn it, Bane! Why the hell did you do this to me?” I yell, throwing my cell across the room. Marching into the kitchen, I pull a second bottle of whiskey from the cupboard and plant myself on the couch and do the only thing I can; get drunk and watch the Game Show Network. Just before midnight, my cell rings with an incoming text;

Unknown Number: Remember to lock your doors love; you never know who will wander in.

Me: Who the hell is this?

No response.

***

I wake up the next morning with my head pounding and my cell ringing from across the room. Rolling off the couch, I crawl to it, answering without checking the caller ID:

“Hello?”

“I hope you rot in hell bitch for what you did,” the voice on the other end said.

“What? Who the hell is this?”

“My daughter was one of the victims of the D.C. Carver. Because of what you did, when they finally catch him, he’ll go free. I hope you’re happy with yourself,” he tells me ending the call.

How the hell did he find my cell number? I stumble back to the couch as my phone rings, probably with another angry person wanting to tell me I’m going to hell, ignoring the call. I then check my social media accounts where I find more hateful notes and death threats:

You should be drug out into the streets and shot for what you did.

I hope they charge you for helping that murderous madman.

This is all your fault; my sister’s killer will never be brought to justice.

If I see you in a dark alley, I’d be more than willing to take care of the problem.

Without a second thought, I close all my social media accounts. Closing my accounts and turning off my phone won’t stop them; they know where I live. I need to get out of here. Turning my cell back on, I call my mom. She answers with a brisk, “Erin.”

“Hi, Mom.”

“What do you want Erin?”

“I was calling to see if I could stay with you until this situation blows over.”

“No Erin, you cannot stay here. I don’t want your drama to land on my doorstep. Thank God your father is dead because this would kill him. How could you do this?”

“Not that you care, but I didn’t do it. Bane lied, and now I’m trying to get my name cleared.”

“Doesn’t matter, public opinion is all that matters now. They think you did this.”

“Thanks for your love and support. I’ll call Cian. Maybe he’ll want to spend time with me.”

“No, you will not take your drama to him. You made this mess, and you will need to deal with the consequences,” she tells me before ending the call.

I need a drink after dealing with my mother. Raiding the kitchen, I pull a twelve pack of beer from the fridge, then settle on the couch for another long night of the Game Show Network. Two beers in, my phone rings with an incoming text from the unknown number:

Unknown Number: Don’t worry my love; I will stop the nasty things they are saying about you. I just need some time.

Me: Who is this?

When there is no response, I turn my phone off, settling in for a long night of booze and TV.

Chapter Three

“Erin!” Fi-Fi yells from the entryway of my apartment. Fi-Fi, or Ophelia Shaw, is my best friend and partner; I guess my ex-partner now. We met five years ago on our first day at Quantico, Being the only two female recruits in the class; we were paired together and became fast friends. I jump, startled by her unexpected announcement, and fall off the couch onto the floor. Fi-Fi enters the living room towering over me; she looks a lot taller than five-foot-six from this angle. She reminds me of a nineteen fifties pin-up girl with her curvy hourglass figure, long legs, pouty lips and perfect brunette hair. “Why the hell are you on the floor?” Fi-Fi asks offering her hand to help me off the floor.

Taking her hand and standing, I answer, “I was sleeping on the couch before you barged in here, scaring the hell out of me. What the hell are you doing here?”

“What do you mean, what am I doing here? I’ve been your friend and partner for years. I’m here to find out what the hell happened and to make sure you’re okay. I would have come sooner, but the bureau had us on lockdown for the last two days. “

“Really? For two days?”

“Yeah, after you left the building one of the higher-ups came to see Paul; he was let go for not having better control over his people. Then they made us go through everything on the D.C. Carver case; when they found no other leaks, they let us go,” Fi-Fi says talking so fast it’s difficult for me to understand what she’s saying. She sucks a deep breath before starting again. “After I stopped at my place for a quick shower, I came here to check on you. What the hell happened?” Fi-Fi asks, sitting next to me on the couch.

“Bane wrote that damn article, falsely citing me as the source of information. After I was escorted from the Hoover building, I went to Bane’s apartment to confront him, but he has packed all his shit and moved away, like the coward he is. Bane was kind enough to leave me a note, saying he made everything up and that he is very sorry for everything. After a small breakdown, I came home. I intended to get drunk and rummage through Bane’s stuff, but it was gone. He packed his shit but was nice enough to leave me another note and an engagement ring.”

Shock crosses Fi-Fi’s face, “A what?”

“An engagement ring. Hold on, let me get the notes and the ring so you can see what he wrote.” I jog into the bedroom, grab the notes and ring box from my nightstand, then jog back into the living room handing them to Fi-Fi. I try to read the expressions on Fi-Fi’s face, but she is not giving much away.

“What a piece of shit. I can’t believe Bane did this to you,” Fi-Fi blurts out.

“You believe me?” I ask, shocked since no one else believes me.

“Of course, I believe you. Erin. The FBI is your entire life. Why would that change now? I know you loved Bane, but you would never jeopardize your career for a man. And to be honest, I never thought Bane was the kind to ask.”

“Thank you,” I tell her my, eyes moistening with unshed tears.

“Can I have a copy of these notes? Maybe we can clear your name and get your job back.”

I take the notes from Fi-Fi, run into my home office and make a copy, then run back to Fi-Fi handing her the copies. “Thank you so much for this Fi-Fi. You have no idea what this means to me,” I say hugging her tight. “I’m your best friend, Erin. I’m not going drop you because bad shit happens,” she says, returning my hug. We spend the rest of the day vegging out on the couch, eating junk food, watching bad TV, and try to forget about the outside world.

***

Two weeks have passed since Fi-Fi came to check on me. She’s called a couple of times to make sure I was still alive and didn’t need anything. But she says nothing about the notes or my name being cleared. The news stations have moved on to other stories, but the protesters continue to camp out in front of my building. Yesterday, some of the protesters broke into the apartment building and vandalized the lobby; they write “murder” and “sell out” on the walls in red spray paint. When they found my door, they wrote “Murder Whore” across it.

“Today the property manager handed me an eviction notice. The notice stated I was causing a disturbance to the other tenants. And the building owners are claiming the damage in the lobby was caused because of me. Now I have two weeks to move out.” I tell Fi-Fi between my sobs, “I can’t take any more shit, Fi-Fi. I’m done.”

“I’m so sorry, sweetie. I’m done with work in two hours, how about I come over with dinner and we talk.”

“Thank you Fi-Fi. You are a good friend.”

“You would do the same thing for me.”

After work, Fi-Fi comes over with food from our favorite Italian place. She listens to me bitch and moan about my problems while we eat. After we eat and clean-up, Fi-Fi adds the final nail in my coffin. “I wanted to wait to tell you, but I think you need to know now, so you can move on with your life. I showed the higher ups the notes you gave me. They said even though Bane said he lied, the damage is already done. And even if they wanted to bring you back, they couldn’t.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? I gave the FBI six years of my life. My father and grandfather both gave their lives to the FBI, and this is all I get,” I shout at Fi-Fi.

“I’m sorry, honey. But you need to move on with your life. You need to find another job. Maybe move out of the city,” Fi-Fi replies.

“Are you serious right now? I have wanted to be an FBI agent since I was a little girl, and you want me to give up my dream? Fuck that, no way.”

“I’m sorry, but you don’t have a choice, Erin. The FBI is not going to take you back. You need to move on before you lose everything.”

“I already have,” I scream. “I think it’s time you leave, Fi-Fi.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Erin. But you need to face the facts and move on,” Fi-Fi snaps before storming out of my apartment.

“Taking my job and boyfriend wasn’t enough! I have to lose my best friend too? What did I do to deserve this? I’m a good person! Hell, I hunt the bad guys and put them in jail,” I yell at the empty room. Getting no answers from the furniture, I drag my butt off the couch and stumble into the kitchen, taking a bottle of whiskey from the freezer. Maybe there will be answers at the bottom of the bottle.

Chapter Four

May

Washington D.C.

I pout for a week before I work up the courage to call my mom to beg for a place to live. Now that the media has stopped, I hope she will be more willing to let me stay with her until I can get back on my feet. Locating her contact information, I call her, then hold my breath until she answers with a brisk “Erin.”

“Hi, Mom.”

“What do you want, Erin?” Mom asks in her I’m already bored with this conversation voice.

“I’m being kicked out of my apartment, and I need a place to stay for a little while.”

“And you want to say with me?”

“Yes, please.”

Mom huffs an “Okay,” into the phone which means she is not doing this out of the goodness of her heart. She will make me pay for this favor. ‘Everything must be earned’ is what she used to tell Cian and me as kids. “Fine you can stay with me, but I need help at the bakery. If you help me, I’ll help you,” Mom offers.

“Sure, it’s been awhile since I’ve worked in the bakery, but I should be able to pick it up quickly.”

“You have to stay in the back; I don’t want your drama affecting my bakery.”

I answer with a short, “Fine mom, whatever you want.”

“And don’t bring all of your crap to my apartment, only what you need. I don’t want your stuff cluttering my apartment.”

“Fine mom. I’ll be there Friday.”

“See you then.”

I spend the rest of the week going through my things, packing what I need, throwing away junk, and boxing items up for storage. I sold my car hoping the money I save on parking will help me get on my feet faster. By Thursday I have everything packed and ready. The moving company I hired will be here in the morning to take my furniture and knick-knacks to storage; until I find my own place again. I pray it’s only for a few months because my mother is not the easiest person to live with.

Friday afternoon I pile three oversize duffel bags into the back of a taxi. Thirty years old and I’m moving back in with my mother again. Boy isn’t life grand. After my dad passed away from a heart attack three years ago, Mom sold our childhood home to buy a two-bedroom apartment in George Town, closer to her precious shop, O’ Sullivan Bakery. It was built by my great-great-grandfather after he and his family emigrated from Ireland during the potato famine in the mid-eighteen hundreds. They sell traditional American and Irish baked goods; bread, cookies, and other pastries including wedding cakes. With both her kids grown and out of the house and Dad passing, the bakery has become Mom’s number one priority; I think it’s what keeps her going.

The cab pulls up in front of Mom’s building. I pay the driver, then fight to remove my three duffels from the trunk. As the taxi drives away, the doorman finally makes an appearance, helping me move my bags into the elevator and rides with me to my mom’s sixth-floor apartment. The doorman leaves me when I knock on Mom’s door. She opens the door, takes one of my bags, then leads me into the guest room. “You remember the house rules?” Mom asks setting my bag on the bed. Riona Murphy may not look it, at only five-foot one-inch, gray hair she dies red, and blazing green eyes, but she is a pit bull. Don’t let her looks fool you, she will go toe to toe with anyone. I think Dad married her because he was scared of her.

“Yes Mom, I remember the house rules. Don’t worry I’ll stay out of your hair for as long as I’m here,” I say as I begin to unpack.

“Just make sure you clean up after yourself and don’t stay up too late; we have to leave for work at four in the morning.”

“I’ll unpack, eat, then go to bed.”

“Good night, Erin,” Mom says leaving the room.

***

My alarm goes off at three in the morning. I take a quick shower, then pull on a pair of old jeans and a beat up old t-shirt as Mom shouts down the hall, “Hurry up if you want to eat before we have to leave.” I rush into the kitchen, tossing a bagel in the toaster while I fill a travel mug with coffee.

We met Ruarc, the head baker, and one of my parent’s oldest friends, at the bakery. He is just how I remember him, with salt and pepper hair, joy-filled blue eyes, a big smile, and round belly. “Erin, I can’t believe you are here. Your mother told me you were going to help out, but I didn’t believe her,” Ruarc gushes pulling me in for a big hug. Pulling back, he gives me the once over, “You have become quite the young women.”

“Thanks, Ruarc. I’ve missed you too.” Though I think I’m passed the young woman stage of life, but it is nice to hear.

I follow him into the bakery. As he hands me an apron, he says, “Okay, kiddo. It’s been a long time since you’ve helped. So, today you are just going to watch and learn.” From a nearby filing cabinet he pulls out a binder, “These are our recipes. While I get the ovens warming up, study them,” he tells me walking away to start his day.

I study the different bread, cookie, and pastry recipes for the first part of the morning. Once Ruarc has the necessary baked goods for the morning rush, he gives me a tour of the kitchen. Ruarc is patient with me, showing me where everything is from measuring spoons to the ovens. He even takes the time to teach me how to use the equipment. I spent the day studying recipes and shadowing Ruarc; overall it was a great first day. The feeling of accomplishment only lasted until the car ride home. As soon as I closed the car door, Mom is on me, “I hope you pick up the pace tomorrow. You slowed Ruarc down this morning.”

“I’m sorry, mom. I’ll try better tomorrow,” I say, looking out the window. Thirty years old and she still makes me feel like an errant child. Once in the fourth grade, I received a C on a spelling test. Mom made me spell out each word six times, that way, I could spell them correctly in the future. Because nothing less than a B was acceptable in the Murphy house. Dad told me she only did it because she loved me and wanted the best for her children. I think it was because it reflected poorly on her as a parent. As soon as we get to the apartment, I make myself a sandwich, then retreat to my room to binge watch Outlander on Stars.

***

By the end of the week, Ruarc tells me I am ready to bake on my own. I need to show my mother I can do this, that I’m not as screwed up as she thinks I am. I take my time, following the recipes exactly. But when I put the bread in the oven, I notice Ruarc never uses a timer. He has been baking so long he knows when it’s been enough time. I put the soda bread in the oven, look at my watch, then turn back to my station to make shortbread cookies. When I have the cookie dough done, smoke fills the room. I turn around to see smoke spewing out of the oven I put the soda bread in. Rushing to it, I throw the oven door open and pull out two racks of charcoal briquettes.

Mom races into the kitchen, “Erin, what are you doing? The whole bakery smells like smoke.” She turns her attention to Ruarc who is walking out of the storeroom, “You are supposed to be watching her. What happened?”

“I’m sorry Mom, it’s my fault. I’ll do better.”

She nods, storming out. When she’s out of earshot, I turn to face Ruarc, “I’m so sorry Ruarc. I promise I’ll pay better attention from now on.”

“It’s okay sweetheart; I’ll pick up a couple of timers tomorrow. Why don’t you make the dough and I’ll take over the baking?”

Over the next week, I get the recipes and the timing down. I still set a timer for everything when I put it in the oven, just in case. I think my progress is spectacular considering I haven’t worked in the bakery since high school, and even then I was only allowed to box items for the customers. My mother doesn’t see it that way; she sees that I spent the last week wasting money. I need to talk to Fi-Fi and have a beer.

***

After a shower to wash off the sickeningly sweet smell of the bakery, I find my cell phone and get ready to eat crow.

“I was wondering when you would call,” Fi-Fi answers.

“I’m sorry I was a bitch to you. I know you were only trying to be a good friend. Do you forgive me?” I ask in my most pitiful voice, hoping she will take pity on me.

“You know I do. How is it living with your mother?” Fi-Fi asks knows precisely why I’m calling.

“I think the seventh circle of hell would be more fun.”

“It can’t be that bad?”

“Have you met my mother? She is overly critical of everything I do. I haven’t worked in the bakery since high school, but rather than understanding and being supportive, she gets pissed that I slowed Ruarc down and wasted money because I burnt some of the bread and cookies. But what did I expect from my mother who requires perfection one hundred percent of the time.”

“I’m sorry, Erin. If it gets worse and you can’t take it anymore, you can always stay with me.”

“Thanks, Fi-Fi.”

“Anytime. Now get some sleep. You sound exhausted.”

“Talk to you later,” I tell her ending the call, then fall face down on the bed. “Things always look their worst before they get better, right?” I ask into my comforter. “Things will start looking up, it will take time,” I tell myself.


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