Savage CHAPTER ONE
There must be a storm coming.
Sidney Moore opened her eyes to the morning and groaned, the beginnings of a sinus headache throbbing inside her skull.
Great, she thought as she lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. For the briefest moment she felt a rush of panic that she might have overslept and that she was going to be late for school. But that was immediately followed by an incredible sense of relief when she remembered that school was over for the summer, never mind the fact that she had graduated. The pressures of high school were over and done, and the wonders of an unknown future were laid out before her eighteen-year-old self. But the thrill quickly soured, any potential this particular day might have in store for her dissolving as a knot of discomfort formed in her belly and she remembered the inescapable things that had lately been the source of her troubles.
The things that haunted and distracted her from the excitement of her future.
She rolled over with a heavy sigh and reached for her phone just as the large white head of a German shepherd loomed up from beside the bed and planted a wet kiss on her face. A kiss that smelled like the glue on an old envelope.
“Morning, Snowy girl,” she said, looking deep into the dog’s icy blue eyes. Snowy’s bushy tail began to wag wildly, and she pawed the bed for more attention.
“All right, all right,” Sidney exclaimed. “I’ll get you some breakfast in a minute.”
Snowy sat down, watching with eager, hungry eyes as Sidney checked her phone for messages.
“Unngh,” she groaned, seeing that one of the dreaded things that held back her anticipation had called while she slept.
Her boyfriend—ex-boyfriend—had left another message.
“Cody, why can’t you just leave me alone?” she whispered sadly as she threw back the covers and climbed from bed.
Snowy excitedly leaped to her feet.
“Yes, yes, go on.” Sidney motioned the dog from the room with the hand that still held the phone, and Snowy bounded down the hallway toward the kitchen.
Sidney knew what she should do—delete the message and forget that he’d even called. She would be better off, she was sure of it, although there was still a part of her that cared for him. But that was the part of her that obviously wasn’t dead set on leaving Benediction for college in Boston.
The part she was trying her damnedest to ignore.
The kitchen smelled deliciously of French roast, and half a pot sitting in the coffeemaker filled the air with the aroma that she’d always loved, even though she could barely stomach the taste. One of these days, she told herself as she picked up Snowy’s water dish from the place mat on the floor and proceeded to rinse it clean before filling it with fresh water. Sidney had taken to imagining herself in deep with her college studies, pulling all-nighters with cup after cup of steaming hot coffee to keep her awake. Developing a taste for the stuff was one of the many things she was going to have to do while getting used to being on her own.
She set Snowy’s dish down and went to the strainer by the sink for her food bowl. There was a plastic container in the corner beside the fridge that held the dog’s food, and Sidney unscrewed the lid and poured a measured cup into the bowl.
“Here ya go, girl,” Sidney said as she carried the dish across the kitchen. “Made it up fresh myself.”
Snowy wasn’t looking, so she did not know that Sidney was speaking to her. The dog was standing in front of the sliding glass doors, looking out onto the deck where Sidney’s dad was sitting, enjoying the early morning, as well as a smoke.
“Dammit,” Sidney cursed, bending to set Snowy’s food bowl down. Sidney stomped her foot on the floor to get the dog’s attention.
Feeling the vibration, the white shepherd turned to look at her.
“Here’s your chow,” Sidney said as the dog dashed to her meal. “That’s a good girl.” She patted her side lovingly, suddenly experiencing a strange wave of emotion over the idea that it wouldn’t be long before she was gone and wouldn’t be here to feed her special friend.
“I’m gonna miss you something fierce,” she said, continuing to stroke the dog’s gorgeous white coat. The two had had a special bond from the first day her father had brought her home from the mainland as a special birthday gift, the bond only intensifying when she learned of Snowy’s unique disability.
Her dog was deaf.
Snowy looked up from her bowl of dry food, chewing happily but empathically sensing the shift in Sidney’s mood.
“That’s all right,” she reassured the dog. “You keep eating.”
The shepherd did as she was told, digging her pointed snout into the bowl for the remaining kibble.
Sidney left the dog and went to the sliding doors, her mood shifting back to one of annoyance as she let herself out onto the deck.
“Hey, you’re up,” her father said.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Watcha doing?”
“Enjoying what’s left of the summer,” he said, reaching with his left hand for his coffee mug. There wasn’t any sign of a cigarette, which meant that he’d already disposed of the evidence. He lifted his chin and looked across the expanse of backyard to a house that could just about be seen through a section of woods. “I think the crap in the Mosses’ yard is multiplying,” he said, and chuckled.
He was making reference to their neighbors across the way that they believed were hoarders. He knew that they always got a good chuckle talking about Caroline, her son Isaac, and the ever-increasing collection of stuff that piled up in their backyard. But she didn’t feel like chuckling at the moment.
“Can I get you another cup of coffee?” she asked.
He finished his sip and then offered her the cup. “That would be awesome.”
She took the cup from him and started for the door. “Would you like another cigarette, too?” she asked, standing in the doorway from the deck into the kitchen.
Her father didn’t answer.
“And I’ll bring the phone out to you too so that you can call nine-one-one when you finish.”
“When did you get to be so fresh?” her father asked. “I remember that well-behaved little girl who wouldn’t dream of disrespecting her father. Whatever happened to her?”
“She went away when her father almost died of a stroke from too much smoking and stress.”
“So who are you again?” he asked, trying to coax a smile from her.
“I’m the daughter that’ll be making your funeral arrangements if you keep doing this crap.”
“So I had a cigarette, big deal,” her father said, a touch of petulance in his tone.
“You know that’s not good for you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, waving her off.
Snowy pushed past her out onto the deck and to her father’s side.
“There’s a good girl,” her dad said, patting the shepherd.
Sidney watched him with a wary eye, paying extra attention to his right-hand side and how he avoided the use of it. Though he had regained some use since the stroke, it still wasn’t all that strong.
“I should have her bite you,” Sidney said.
“She’d never do that. Would you, girl?” he asked the dog, staring lovingly into her focused gaze. “We’re the best of pals.”
“I’m sure she’d be as mad as I am if I told her that you were killing yourself.”
“I had one cigarette,” he said. “Don’t make such a big deal out of it.”
Snowy had brought him a ball, dropping it into the right side of the chair. He squirmed a bit, trying to grasp the ball with the hand on that side, but frustration won out, and he reached across with his left. He threw the ball and smiled as the dog bounded across the deck and leaped into the yard after it.
“You’ve only had one cigarette? Look me in the eye and tell me that.”
“Are you going to bring me that coffee or . . . ?”
“Thought so,” she said, going inside before she could say anything that might make the situation worse. Her mind raced as she stood at the kitchen counter. What can I do? Her father was a grown man and could do anything he wanted despite what she told him he could and couldn’t do.
Her memory flashed back to the horrible day when he’d had the stroke, and how the world had suddenly become a lot scarier than it ever had been before, and she was forced to look at life through more adult eyes. It had always been just the two of them, her mother having walked out before she was even five, but after her dad got sick, she had no choice but to grow up.
The doctors hadn’t been sure that he was even going to make it, but her father had surprised them, regaining his speech and most of his ability to walk. Sure he had to use a cane, but that was better than nothing. Better than being stuck in a bed.
But it wasn’t enough for him. Her father wanted to be back to the way he was before the stroke, and that was something that couldn’t be guaranteed. His recovery after getting out of the hospital had been slow, physical therapy only doing as much as the patient was willing to put into it. She couldn’t even begin to count the number of times that they’d talked about him working harder—lots of tears and yelling, followed by promises that he’d do better, and he would . . . for a time.
It was like he’d decided that if he couldn’t be 100 percent better, it wasn’t worth the effort. And if it was bad now, how awful was it going to get once she went off to school and couldn’t keep an eye on him? She imagined another phone call, and a ball of ice formed in her belly.
This was that other nagging concern preventing her from truly getting excited over her future plans. The other thing that held her back.
She heard the door sliding open behind her and the sound of her father’s efforts to come inside.
“Do you still want that coffee?” she asked, taking the carafe from the coffeemaker.
“Yeah, that would be good,” she heard him say.
She filled the cup and was turning around to bring it to the small kitchen table in the center of the room when she saw that he was having some difficulty getting his right leg in through the doorway.
“Wait a sec,” she said, not wanting to spill the drink as she carefully set it down.
“I got it,” her dad said, but she could hear the frustration already growing.
She turned to see Snowy outside on the deck, tennis ball clutched in her mouth, as her father continued to struggle.
“Dad . . .”
“I’m fine,” he barked, his anger providing him with enough fuel to actually haul the semiuseless leg up over the lip of the slide and get himself inside.
That was when Snowy decided she and her ball were coming inside as well, her large and quite powerful eighty-pound body pushing past Sidney’s father impatiently, throwing off his balance and sending him backward.
Sidney was on the move before her father hit the floor, reaching and grabbing at anything that might lessen the fall. Her father went down wedged into the corner of the kitchen, knocking some plants from the metal plant stand as his good arm flailed.
He swore as she got to him.
“It’s okay,” she said, not wanting to make a big deal out of it. “I’ve got you.”
His breathing had quickened, explosions of expletives leaving his mouth as he settled. She squatted down, put her hands beneath his arms, and attempted to haul him to his feet. Sidney didn’t consider herself weak by any means, but even though he had lost some weight since the stroke, her father was still pretty darn heavy, and not having the full use of his right side only made matters all the more difficult.
The first try was a failure, with her slipping to one side and him falling to the floor for a second time.
“Leave me here,” she heard her father say. The anger was gone now, replaced by something that sounded an awful lot like disgust.
“Yeah, right.” She tried again, getting a better hold beneath his arms, and managed to at least get him upright. “A little help here,” she said, chiding him. “That’s it. You got it.”
He was helping now, though she could tell that he was tired. This only made her think of the man that he used to be. The guy who would be out of the house and off to one of his contracting jobs at five in the morning, only to return later that day to do even more work around their own house. She hated to see him this way probably as much as he despised being it, but what choice was there? The alternative was not an option she cared to consider.
Though she was certain there were nights that her father had considered it.
The idea of him being gone—being dead—nearly took her strength away, and she was afraid that she would drop him again. Snowy, ball still clutched in her mouth, stood across the kitchen, watching cautiously, tail wagging ever so slightly, the look in her icy blue eyes asking if everything was all right.
Then, at that very moment, Sidney wanted the answer to be yes, yes, everything was going to be fine. Pushing all the sadness and concern aside, she managed to pull her father up to his feet and, balancing him against her shoulder, dragged one of the kitchen chairs over close enough that she was able to assist him in sitting down.
“No gym for me this morning,” she joked, feeling out of breath from the struggle. She could tell he was exhausted as well, sitting slumped, head back. Snowy had come to him with her ball, checking the situation out, making sure that everything was as it should be. He petted her silently, the action helping to calm him.
“You good?” she asked, rubbing his back.
He didn’t answer as she picked up his cane, leaning it up against the kitchen table. She then reached over and slid the mug of coffee closer to his reach.
“Here’s your refill.”
He just nodded, letting the good hand that was petting Snowy reach for the coffee.
Sidney had been planning on having a cup of tea and maybe something to eat before getting ready for work, but glancing at the clock on the microwave told her that wasn’t going to be possible if she didn’t want to be late.
“If you’re okay, I’ve got to get ready,” she told him.
He was mid-sip but finished and carefully brought the coffee mug down to the table. “I’m good,” he said as the mug landed without spilling a drop, and then he looked at her.
But in his eyes she could see how sad he was, and how tired.
And that he was lying.