Misty Mornings

Chapter 1

 

Graduation night, Blueberry Beach High, eighteen years ago

Leiklyn Weaver, brand-new high school graduate, sat on the knoll by the shore of Lake Michigan, the looming specter of Indigo Inn at Blueberry Beach behind her, with her two best friends in the world on either side of her, staring off into the darkness of the water.

Growing up in Blueberry Beach, there had been plenty of times she had been on the beach at three AM.

This could well be one of the last.

Maybe the beginning of the end.

Commencement meant beginning. She couldn’t help but feel that it was an end as well.

Typical thoughts for a recent high school grad, probably.

On her right, Tiffany, a cheerleader and president of the science club, sighed. “I think we’re supposed to be happy today. But I’ve been fighting a weird sadness.”

Leiklyn jerked her head to the side. Her friend had been sad? She hadn’t had any idea. Tiffany was one of those people who were always bubbly and happy and never met a stranger.

Before Leiklyn could say anything, Willan, who sat on Leiklyn’s left, said, “Me too. I mean, graduation was great, and I had fun partying tonight, but there’s almost a desperation, like nothing will ever be the same again.”

Maybe that’s why Tiffany and Willan were Leiklyn’s best friends. They’d all felt the same thing, even though none of them had talked about it until just now.

“I did something yesterday. Something crazy,” Leiklyn said, not because she wanted to change the subject, not even really because she wanted to cheer them up. Just because she didn’t like to be sad. Who did?

Lord knew she had enough bad stuff in her short history that she could end up being sad and depressed for the rest of her life, and she was only eighteen years old.

Hopefully, the next eighteen years produced better memories, not the wretched ones that caused nightmares that would grab her out of a sound sleep, cover her in cold sweats, and give her a deathly fear of hell because she’d done something so terrible God could never forgive her.

Shaking those thoughts away quickly, or they would pull her down, she wiggled her shoulders, bumping both of her friends and giving them an excited grin which they could see easily under the three-quarters moon in the clear night sky.

“You finally said yes when Jake asked you out?” Tiffany guessed immediately.

“No,” Leiklyn said, trying to keep the excitement in her voice. She hadn’t been interested in dating. Not for three years. Not since Ethan and she…

No more thinking about the bad stuff.

“Guess again,” Leiklyn encouraged them.

“You applied for the internship in Amsterdam. The one you’ve been talking about all year.”

“Well, actually I did do that. A week ago, but we were so busy with finals and graduation and all those other things, I guess I forgot to tell you.”

“We’re your best friends, and you forgot to tell us?” Willan asked incredulously.

“I’m sorry,” Leiklyn said immediately, knowing how Willan felt about their friendship. They told each other everything, and when Willan said everything, she meant everything.

She was very particular, dotting all of her Is and crossing all of her Ts, and expecting everyone else to do it too. Everyone had their faults, and Leiklyn loved Willan even if Leiklyn’s more casual approach to life annoyed Willan.

Sometimes, she wished she had been more stringent.

“It’s okay. I guess we were busy. I fell off the wagon on my diet again.” Willan pushed her feet out, her hands on the thighs which she claimed were too large.

Willan was a size ten, and she thought she was too big. No matter what Leiklyn and Tiffany told her, she dieted constantly, always with the goal of being model thin.

She hadn’t dated any in high school because she couldn’t believe that anyone would actually like her since she considered herself to be “fat.”

“I’ll start with you again tomorrow if you want me to,” Leiklyn offered, although dieting was the last thing she needed to do. She’d been blessed with the kind of genes where she could eat anything and never gain an ounce. She actually had to lie about her weight in order to give blood, not meeting the requisite one hundred ten pounds. That was one thing she hadn’t shared with Willan, because she knew it would discourage her.

“Did you decide to move out of your house?” Tiffany asked, knowing Leiklyn had been thinking about it for a while. Ever since her mom had gotten remarried and brought in three new stepsiblings, who seemed to take up all of her time. Not to mention her mom was talking about moving away from Blueberry Beach and down to Chicago where her stepdad’s family was from.

All she seemed to want from Leiklyn anymore was to babysit her stepsiblings, and while Leiklyn didn’t mind doing it some, she resented feeling like slave labor as she watched them every night after school and every Saturday evening so that her mom and her stepdad could have a date night.

She supposed it shouldn’t upset her, since she wasn’t interested in having a date night.

“You decided to start dating again,” Willan said, almost sounding like she hoped that wasn’t what Leiklyn had decided.

“I’ve done that too, but I’m going to wait until I go to college. And then I’m going to say yes to every boy that asks me.”

“Even if you don’t really like him?” Tiffany asked, a little incredulously.

“Yep. I’m going to date everyone. The only word coming out of my mouth in college will be ‘yes.’”

“See? That’s what happens when you go on too stringent a diet. Whether it’s food or whether it’s boys. You fall off, and you end up gorging yourself.” Willan knew what she was talking about, since she’d pretty much done every diet known to man since junior high.

“You don’t date, either,” Leiklyn said, stating the obvious.

“That’s because I’m too fat for anyone to like me. When I lose these flabby thighs and get my stomach tightened up so that there’s not a big ripple in it, then I’ll date. Although not everyone. I’m only going to date that one special boy—my soulmate. I’ll know him when I see him.”

Leiklyn said that last line with Willan in her own head. Willan said it so many times Leiklyn knew exactly what she was going to say.

That was one thing about having good friends and knowing them all your life. You could finish their sentences.

“I give up,” Tiffany said, and that was typical, too. Everything came easily to Tiffany, and when something didn’t, she had a tendency to walk away rather than digging in and trying hard.

Leiklyn probably had the opposite problem. Nothing came easily to her, not finances, not social situations, and especially not her family, which’d been busted up when she was little, and she’d been involved in shifting family dynamics all of her life as her mom hooked up with one man after another and broke up or divorced, and her dad’s presence was sporadic.

Leiklyn loved games, guessing games, card games, even hide-and-seek and flashlight tag. Those were the best things about watching her new stepsiblings. They enjoyed playing with her, and she really did love watching them.

The problem was the attitude of her mom and stepdad, who expected her to be their built-in babysitter. All the time.

“I bought Indigo Inn,” she said, jerking her head to the large, looming shadow behind her, sure her friends could feel the shiver of excitement that went through her as close as they were sitting together.

“You bought it?” Tiffany said, disbelief in her tone. Tiffany came from the perfect family. Her parents were still married, and they had plenty of money.

She had no idea what it was like to live like Leiklyn had. The unstable family, the constant struggle over money, never knowing whether she was going to have a new dad or not, and when she did, her mom expected her to act like he meant something to her even though she really didn’t give a flip. What was the point when he was just going to leave?

“That’s what I said,” she said, enjoying her friends’ disbelief.

“There has to be a catch. Kids don’t buy houses. And this one’s not even for sale,” Willan, logical as always, injected into their conversation.

“So there’s a catch?” Tiffany asked.

“Not really,” Leiklyn said, stretching her legs out in front of her, putting her arms around both of her friends, and pulling them close. “The township took possession of it because of unpaid fines from the grounds being unkempt. They don’t do it too often, but normally, they sell these things to anyone who will pay the balance of the fines. But my stepdad’s brother has a friend who’s a county commissioner, and I happened to be sitting with him at the wedding reception, and I don’t really even remember how we got on the subject, but we talked, he pulled a few strings and talked to a couple of people, and I was able to purchase the house for a dollar.”

“But you’re a kid?!” Willan said.

“I’m eighteen. And I had a dollar, and I promised to mow the grass and make sure someone took care of the upkeep. I think they just wanted it off their hands because tourist season is coming up, and you know they’ll be busy with other things.”

Her friends were quiet for a bit, although they both leaned into her. They might not always agree on everything, and sometimes, they had the normal push and pull along with a little bit of envy and the struggle that friends have to get through to get along and accept each other’s faults.

But they’d been friends since kindergarten. Even before that, actually, since they’d gone to the same church and knew each other before they even went to school.

It was hard to break bonds like that. None of them had any desire to.

“That’s brilliant,” Tiffany said, and she didn’t sound the slightest bit jealous or upset. In fact, she sounded impressed. “I would never have thought of buying a house.”

“It’s not a house. It used to be a hotel. It’s called Indigo Inn at Blueberry Beach, and there must be something like twenty bedrooms in it. Plus a ballroom. Plus…all kinds of stuff, I’ve heard.” Willan knew everything about everything, and if anyone would know what was inside the house, she would.

“I haven’t been in it yet, because I do have to cough up the money for the closing, to pay the lawyers and all those fees for the title transfers and, I don’t know, whatever happens when someone buys a house. It’s set for next month, and I need to come up with almost two thousand dollars.”

“I have one thousand dollars in my savings account. I was going to use it to travel around a little bit the week before I go to college, but…if you let me in on the house, I’ll give you the money.” Tiffany ran a hand down her long leg as though making sure there was no sand stuck to her skin.

Leiklyn didn’t have to think about that very long. Why wouldn’t she want her best friend on the deed with her? “You’re in.”

“I just have a couple hundred dollars. I was saving so I could buy all the things I need to start the air fryer diet plan, but if you let me in, I’ll give it to you. And I’ll see if I can get some more.”

“That’s enough. It’s not really about how much we give, it’s about giving what we can,” Leiklyn said, not wanting Willan to feel bad because Tiffany had more money than either one of them. It irritated her sometimes, but Tiffany was never unkind about it. “I think between the three of us, we can come up with enough to cover the rest. But the problem that I’m having is…who’s going to take care of it while we’re gone?”