Genna reached for her car’s clutch and grasped open air.
Circling her hand back around the silky wheel of the hybrid, she jerked right and into the parking lot. The jolt made the crystal star dangling from the rearview mirror bounce and stirred the new car scent from the faux-leather seats and unblemished dash. Veering into a stall facing the brick-faced library, she idled between a dusty sedan and the muddied running boards of a dented truck.
After checking for their drivers and finding the two vehicles empty, Genna flipped down her visor and faced her blue eyes in the vanity mirror. The color seemed brighter surrounded by the hefty tan provided by her three-month sojourn at the equator, one the police had encouraged but had been disinclined to help fund. Her long locks of now ruddy hair curling at her shoulders and the dearth of eyeliner, mascara, or eye shadow added to the stark contrast.
Brushing her finger across her right eyebrow, Genna scowled, noting a fleck of original blonde requiring an obscuring touchup.
Licking the chastisement from her lipstick free lips, Genna flipped the visor back against the ceiling. Her nerves quavered and she couldn’t resist another furtive glance around.
A field of wheat stretched behind the parking lot, tall stalks swaying in the winds coming off the mountains. The battered cars in the other stalls remained inert and blocked a better view of rows of nearby corn. Nothing but vegetation and metallic dings met her gaze.
Taking some consolation in her invisibility, Genna snagged her purse, the canvas strap stiff in her hands, and hurried from the driver’s seat. The door’s closing bang made her cringe, the sound too similar to the slaps and smacks dominating the night months past and now a thousand miles away.
With her eyes on her smeared sneakers, she marched along the concrete walkway beneath an awning shaded in an overgrowth of vines.
She peeked over her shoulder when the shriek of a hawk being chased off by a pair of sparrows broke the quiet. Wishing the tiny birds luck, Genna reached the library’s front doors and slipped inside.
The smell of paper and binding mixed with the hush crowding the six sets of stacks arranged perpendicular to poster-cluttered walls. Hunched backed seniors clacked at a bank of four computers while others slouched in plush chairs, reading newspapers or hard covered tomes. One or two of the younger generation hid behind laptops plugged in at scattered outlets, pips in ears, eyes locked on their screens as if the flickering images could aid their escape. A clutch of older women formed a softly chatting queue at the checkout.
At a reference desk, a snowy-haired woman in a green blouse with a pin naming her Sheila beamed in greeting. Her rosy cheeks plumped like the apples ripening in the distant, hillside orchards, her wrinkles mirroring the rutted fields closer by.
“Can I help you?”
Genna tightened her fingers around her bag’s strap and attempted a similar grin. “I was wondering if you had any open positions.”
“I’m not sure.” Sheila’s smile never wavered. “You can check online. We just got our website up and running.”
Reaching the desk, Genna lowered her voice. “I’m afraid I just moved. I haven’t gotten my internet set up yet.”
“Well, let’s start there.” Sheila’s smile seemed about to pop her cheeks. “Welcome to Garrington. What brings you out in to our neck of the woods?”
The truth flickered in her mind, tinged with bruising strikes, growling demands, and the smell of blood. Genna forced the images to fade and her fingers to slacken from the grip around her purse’s strap.
“A change of pace.”
“Where are you coming from?”
“You don’t say. I have a nephew who tried that for a bit.” Sheila nodded as if confirming the fact with herself while she skimmed over the drawers hidden beneath her desk. “He didn’t take to the hustle and bustle.” Choosing one, she flipped through hanging folders within and extracted a collection of papers. “He’s back in town now. He’s a Sergeant in the police if you can believe that. What a trouble maker he was.”
“I can’t imagine.”
“Not that we have the kind of trouble you get in the big city. Just tractor racing, cow tipping, the odd night of a little too much from Pappy’s cabinet, or old Mr. Shire on one of his stints. You know the story.”
Sheila cocked her head and laid her hand protectively on the stack resting on her counter.
“The simplicity I mean.” Genna shrugged. “I’m looking for something quieter.”
“You’ll find all the quiet you want here.” With her amenability rebounding, Sheila splayed the pages. “Fill out this one and we’ll get you on file for our circulation pool. With the summer over, we’ve lost most of our high school workers so I’m sure there’s an opening or two.” Shuffling the pages, Sheila tapped at the new top sheet. “I included the form for a library card since I’m guessing you don’t have one of those either. That’ll let you use our computers to access the Internet.” She plucked a pen from its stab through her milky bun and offered the ink-free end. “Fill them out and I’ll make sure they get to the right place.”
Accepting the pen, Genna scooted aside and faced the blank lines and boxes awaiting her information. She rotated the pen in her fingers and thought through each query before putting the tip to the paper. Beside her, Sheila clacked at a keyboard, flipped through some paperwork, and then stopped short.
“Hi, Aunt Sheila.”
At the man’s voice, Genna’s hand wobbled, the start of her new apartment’s address skittering off the end of the page and leaving a wobbly line in its wake. Stiffening, she curled her shoulder, putting more of her back to the figure she didn’t believe could be sidling up to the desk.
Sheila, however, laughed with evident glee. “What are you doing here, you little rascal?”
“The library’s on my new route.”
“Well, isn’t that marvelous. Now I’ll get to see you more than just the occasional Sunday dinner.”
“I hope so.” Charlie shifted, and buckles and straps seemed to resettled around his body. “I saw a new hybrid out front.”
“That’s not anyone here, although—”
Genna flinched. Glancing up, she found a single aisle parting the stacks of books and dead-ending in a landscape oil painting of plains framed by mountains.
Closing her eyes, Genna fought to keep the sweat from popping out at her hairline. She met Sheila’s curious gaze and nearly snapped the pen.
“Do you drive one of those new hybrids?”
The question drifted over her as Genna kept from glancing at the towering officer leaning against the desk, his thumbs looped at his belt where a communicator and pistol hung among other square pouches.
Charlie’s grunt sounded authentically impressed. “Nice car.”
Genna forced her gaze to his green eyes, ones flecked with fine lines she suspected he had earned squinting beneath the big sky’s sun.
“This young lady’s new in town.” Sheila’s insinuation rivaled the library’s dominating quiet.
Charlie nodded although a developing frown made his widow’s peak inch toward his nose with its bump from being broken at least once.
The vision of blood oozing onto one of her bathroom towels leaped from Genna’s memory. She shuddered, recalling the rusty smell, the warmth of his breaths on her hand, and all the stings of the slaps, punches, and worse she had endured before Charlie had intervened.
Sheila plowed into the scarlet-rimmed lull. “This is that nephew I was telling you about. The one who came back from being out east.”
Lifting his hand nearest the pistol, Charlie offered it out. “Sergeant Charles Barton, Tolville County PD.”
“Genna.” Slipping her hand in his firm yet gentle shake, she noted the new calluses on his palm.
Genna gulped. Not finding her voice, she simply nodded.
“She’s applying to work here.” The radiance of Sheila’s smile escalated.
Charlie’s grin quirked and a glimmer entered his eye. “Maybe I’ll see you around then.”
With a ponderous nod, he turned to Sheila. “I should be off.”
“Of course, of course. See you Sunday?”
“I’ll have to check my schedule.”
Sheila pouted. “You work too hard.”
“There are only three of us.”
Sheila clucked her tongue and Genna wilted as Charlie made a sweep through the library. Bending over the pages to avoid Sheila or her own thoughts, she jotted vague details about coffee shop jobs from years ago and a stint as an assistant manager at a department store. She tweaked the years a little, compensating to circumvent the bank teller position where all the trouble with Lucas and the accounts had started. While she wrote, Sheila resumed a lighthearted banter.
“That boy really does work too hard. He’s a sweetheart, you see, all the young ladies says so but it’s like he’s given up on finding someone, you know? He doesn’t seem to care about finding a girl of his own and just slaves away at the department.”
Genna signed her name on the bottom line and handed over the stack.
“I keep thinking he got his poor heart broken while he was away and can’t find the right girl to make him whole again. I mean, it’s not like he’s getting any younger.” Sheila skimmed over the details and aligned the pages.
“He looked fine to me.”
Sheila glanced up, her eyes glittering. “Well, perhaps if this all works out, you two will be seeing a bit more of each other.”
“We’ll see.” Genna twirled the pen uncertain whether Sheila’s idea might be a good or bad. “You’ll let me know if anything comes up.” Locking her mind on more pertinent concerns, like paying rent, she motioned at the pages.
“Definitely. I doubt it’ll take long.”
“Great, I’d really like to get settled into something soon.”
“And we love having new faces around here.”
“I hope I can be one of them.” Surprised by the truth of the statement, Genna placed down the pen.
Sheila leaned forward and pitched her voice down an octave. “I’m sure Charlie would think so too.” With a wink, she cradled the stack as if the sheets might shatter. “We’ll be in touch Genna, don’t you worry about that.”
“I won’t.” Genna collected her bag and waved in farewell.
Walking from the library, she kept an eye out for Charlie’s familiar face and mulled on the unexpected possibilities stretching before her life’s fresh start.