Author’s Note: Welcome. This is… well, it’s the first part of my 2013 Nano novel. I think this is a mystery, but I am not sure yet, to be honest. I don’t know much about it other than where the characters first met. I’ll see where this takes me and hopefully have more of a summary in days to come.
I am not done writing today, but as it’s day one and I’m launching site stuff, here’s the first scene. I’ll add more before I go to bed.
“You have to fix him.”
Shaelynn groaned, rolling over in her bed and wondering what had possessed her to take the call. She was supposed to be asleep, and she didn’t work on-call. That might have made her think, somewhere in that sleepy stupor of hers, that any call at this hour had to be an emergency—not too long ago, one had been—but this one was not, and she shouldn’t have answered.
“I can’t fix your brother, Nora. That’s not how it works,” she said, her thumb moving to end the call. “These things take time, and whether you like it or not, you have to be patient.”
“This is not about patience. He’s not himself, and I don’t know how to pull him out of it,” Nora said. She cursed low under her breath and Shaelynn could hear her heels clicking across the floor. She was still in the office? At two in the morning? Why? “I’ve tried—tried giving him space and tried giving him a push and I gave it time. It’s been almost a year, and I know what happened has every right to have shaken him up—he got shot—and I am not belittling the trauma of that, but it’s… more.”
Shaelynn sighed. No argument about counseling would be enough—not that she thought either of them would agree to that after what they’d gone through—and clearly the time one hadn’t done anything, so she needed a new tactic. She sat up, combing her fingers through her hair, turning each dark strand over and studying the roots while she tried to think. “Take him on a trip.”
“A trip? That’s your solution? We’re talking about my brother. He’s a workaholic of the worst sort. He’s not the kind that takes trips.”
“You asked for a fix.”
“And you gave me a crap line about a trip,” Nora shot back. “Do you think I’d call in the middle of the night if I hadn’t already tried the trip? Not only did I fight with him for a month over it, but taking it didn’t do anything to change things. He says he had a great time like a robot. ‘Best vacation ever,’ he repeats, but it was like he wasn’t even there.”
Shaelynn turned her attention to her toes. The nails needed a trim, they were just a tad long, and the nail polish was chipping. “Then he needs therapy.”
“No, he needs you.”
She jerked the phone away, dropping it on the bed as she tried to convince herself not to throw it at the wall or scream at it. She took in another breath, let it out, and picked it back up. “It was never like that, no matter what they might have—”
“He needs you because I think it pushed him back there,” Nora said. She sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to ask you for this because I know how hard you’ve worked to put it past you—all of us did. I thought he had, but I haven’t seen him like this since we were there, and you were the one that made it possible for him to leave. Oh, he had ideas of his own, and he wanted to get me out of there, but they were destroying his mind and will like they did with everyone, and without you… He’d have let them win.”
“You’re exaggerating. Nolan would never have let that happen. You meant too much to him, and you still do.”
“Shaelynn, please. If you come see him and you don’t agree that there’s something wrong, you can go and forget I called. If seeing you does nothing for him, then I will make it up to you somehow, but I can’t watch my brother retreat back into what he had to become then. He’s just supposed to be a consultant. He’s not supposed to have been shot. He’s not—He’s not himself. If you could get back just a moment of that boy who laughed with you in the middle of planning to steal a bus… Let me see that’s still in him, and I swear you will have my gratitude for life.”
Shaelynn closed her eyes. She already regretted this. “I can’t fix him, and you’re wrong about what I was.”
“Your friendship was a catalyst, the right catalyst, and don’t you dare tell me I am wrong about that. Let me know what your flight is, and I’ll meet it.”
“I hate you, Nora.”
“I never liked you, either, but this isn’t about us. It’s about him.”
“I see she sent for re-enforcements,” Nolan said, flipping through the papers in his hands, consulting details on two pages at once, and Shaelynn stopped in the doorway, telling herself she was only watching him, not intimidated, not even a little. “I hadn’t thought she was that desperate.”
Shaelynn shrugged, sliding in against the far wall, letting herself stay there as she watched him, trying to find the signs of what Nora feared. His fingers betrayed no shakes, no twitches, and even though she had kept the details of her travel arrangements to herself, he was so relaxed that she would have sworn he knew she was coming. The suit was just his sort of rumpled, not a full mess, but enough to show that he was comfortable in it, implying that he was also comfortable doing what he did.
She felt her stomach twist, that kick of instinct that she’d started to hate when she was only a girl. Sometimes it didn’t pay to understand as much as any of them had.
He was trying too hard. Damn. Nora might be right.
“Why would Nora be desperate?”
He let the papers fall, his eyes going to her this time. She didn’t like looking him in the eyes, though she never let that show. They should have bothered Nora, those two clear signs that they didn’t have the same father, but she never seemed to react to them.
Maybe Shaelynn was more sensitive to that. She had to figure she would be.
“Did she tell you about the trip we just took? Best vacation ever.”
“She said you’d say that,” Shaelynn said, folding her arms over her chest and watching him as he set aside the file. “What did you do?”
“Went to the beach, drank mai tais, got tan—”
“That’s an obvious lie. Not that the others weren’t—you hate the beach, you don’t drink alcohol with any kind of fruit—and you are as pale as the day you were born.”
“Pencil pushing suits me,” he said, picking one up off the table and turning it around in his fingers. “Doesn’t suit you, though. I think you’ve gained weight at that stationary job of yours, and it is not flattering.”
She gave him a look. “You don’t know how to flatter a girl. Then again, you never did.”
He laughed. “If you wanted flattery, Shaelynn, you would never have let Nora even half-talk you into coming here. She’s never liked you, and you don’t like me, so why take that flight? Things that bad in your office that you think you’d rather be here? You hate your little cubicle that much? You were offered a full partnership here when we started this business, and you turned it down.”
“You said it yourself. I don’t like you.”
He nodded. “So I did. If you want a moment of fleeting pleasure, you can call Nora and tell her she missed you at the airport.”
“You found my flight information.”
“Nora did. Well, she would have, but I altered it. You shouldn’t have come. It’s not necessary. All it does is throw the past back in your face. In mine. In hers.”
“Since when did you get philosophical?”
He closed his eyes. Someone else might have let their hand slip toward the scars on his chest, might have made that unconscious gesture, but not Nolan. He never gave anything away if he could help it. “Being shot changes some things.”
She looked him over. Nora might be convinced that it was just what happened a year ago, but Shaelynn never jumped to the same conclusions. “Does it?”
“Of course. I’ve got these funny bumps on my skin where they stitched me up afterward. You’d think they’d be more like twisted flesh, but when I look at them, all I see is worms. I’d have a right to nightmares after that, right? I’ve got worms sewn into my skin.”
She shook her head, trying not to smile. He had always had a messed up sense of humor, and if she let him, he could distract her with it. She wasn’t going to let him, though. That wasn’t why she was there. “You are the worm. They should be like family to you.”
He grinned. “I have missed you, though I couldn’t say why. I’ll have to give Nora a nice bonus for calling you and getting you out here, though next time, you can just call and spare yourself the trouble and expense of a trip.”
“Where is the fun in that? Half of the reason to say anything to you is your expression.”
“What? My perfected deadpan? Are you kidding?”
“Perfect?” She almost snorted. “You have dozens of tiny little tells.”
“You just say that because you want to believe it.” He rose from the table and crossed over to her, putting himself in her personal space. “If I had tells, I couldn’t work in this business. Here is where one gets paid to be an impassive robot. You would not believe the things that people believe are important, things that people think matter, and they ask me of all people to consult on.”
“You could quit.”
“Yes, suggest that to Nora as the way you’ll ‘fix’ me. I need a new job.” Nolan tapped her on the nose like she was a child who’d said something amusing. “She tried that, too. Should have seen her when this first happened. Scared to death. Shaking in her expensive little cashmere sweater.”
“Nora’s allergic to wool.”
“Why do you remember that?”
“Better those details than the others.”
“Point well taken. Drink?”
“Yes, several.” She shrugged at his look. That was a hell of a lot easier than admitting that she’d missed him, too, something she would never do.
Shaelynn could have asked him if he was off his meds—letting him talk her into drinks made the assumption that he was, and time could have given her the same impression, but she knew that addiction could have explained the things that were bothering Nora. Shaelynn didn’t think they explained what little she’d noticed in him back at the office.
He’d shed office Nolan with the suit jacket he’d left on the back of his chair and the way he leaned back in his chair, arm posed on it like he owned the place. Another bit of chameleon work, another act. She hadn’t forgotten how little she liked watching him do this. If he hadn’t been good at it, he never would have survived, but that didn’t mean that she wanted the reminders.
“How is work?”
“You said it was boring.”
“Yes, but I always say your work is boring. A part of my elaborate scheme to pull you away from your office and back into mine.”
“We don’t work well together.”
“That is one of the biggest lies you have ever told, Shaelynn,” he told her, shaking his head. “And I know I’ve heard some beautiful ones from you before.”
She shrugged. She didn’t feel like rehashing any of that. She wasn’t here to debate the past. They’d all called a truce on that years ago, and that was where it stayed. Or it would if Nolan wasn’t trying to deflect. “That was different. It was necessary.”
Nolan nodded. He picked up his drink and sipped from it before stirring around the ice. “I’d always thought that I’d put the real threats behind me years before Nora and I started the firm. Getting shot wasn’t supposed to happen. It shouldn’t have.”
“Should have is crap, you know. The world we grew up in shouldn’t have existed, but it did.”
“We got out. We got past it.”
“Nora says you’re not.”
“That again? Why is it that our lives are only about that? We are more than a few years of our lives, than that hellhole we came from. Maybe I just have dreams about the worms on my chest eating their way through it. Maybe I’m already dead and rotting and I just don’t know it.”
“You think you’re a zombie?”
“Good. I have a thing against undead. I’d have to do something about that, and you know I have the training to make sure you’d stay dead this time.”
Nolan lifted the glass to her. “If I really thought I was a zombie, you’d be the first person I’d call. Nora, she’d try and cure me like she is now. You’d just put me out of my misery.”
“That why you wanted me here?”
He shifted in his seat, laid back and dangerous, looking a bit like the rebel in a body that was too young for the mind and mentality he already had, the one he’d been when she first knew him, though he’d grown up since then, filled out and lost all the softness that he used to have. “No. I never wanted you here.”
“You said you missed me.”
“Missing you and wanting you here are two different things. You know how much past we have, all centered around things none of us want to remember, enough to drown in. That kind of nostalgia just brings a lot of pain, and it never seems to be worth it, does it?”
She nodded. Watching his hands reminded her of how she’d retaught him to hold a gun, his shamed admissions that he’d been doing it wrong on purpose, and the war she’d had with herself after that confession. Truth was, they had been fortunate to get stuck with each other, but that was just a sign of how bad things really had been in the beginning.
“Nora is right about one thing.”
“I can’t sleep. Got jet-lagged enough to manage it on the trip, but since we’ve been back, I need enough alcohol or tranquilizers to put down a horse to make that happen.”
“Any particular reason?”
He shook his head. “No. Not that I can tell. I haven’t had a bunch of bad dreams, no recurring ones, and I’m not flashing back to when I got shot every night, either. I might call it hypervigilance, but it’s not like they didn’t catch the guy. What do I have to be afraid of?”
“Did I say they caught him? I should have been more specific. Their bullets caught him. There’s no trial to worry about.”
“You’re not going to ask for a slumber party, are you?”
He set down his drink and leaned forward. “If you wanted me, you probably could have had me when we were kids, but that ship sailed years ago, and somewhere along the way, it hit a big damn reef and sunk in the middle of the ocean.”
“Reefs grow along the shore—in shallow water, at least.”
“Not the point. That thing’s so far down there it’s like the Titanic, and no one is raising that sucker, that’s for sure.”
“Well, that is one thing we agree on.”
“I’m glad that’s settled,” he told her, picking his drink back up. He sipped from it and smiled. “You want to get married again?”
She kicked him. “We were never married.”