Excerpt for Closet Door (Book 1 of the Justice Newberry Series) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Closet Door

Book One of the Justice Newberry Series


Florence Butler












Copyright © 2016 Florence Butler


Edited by Lindsey Young


All rights reserved.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is purely coincidental.

















For Lindsey,

I wrote this because I thought you might like it.



Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six

Chapter Twenty Seven

Chapter Twenty Eight

Chapter Twenty Nine

Chapter Thirty

A letter from the author



Chapter One


Justice


It was twelve-thirty on a late October afternoon. Justice Newberry was counting down the minutes until class would be dismissed. This is the last thing I want to be doing right now, she thought as she sat slouched in her chair in the soft-gray walled classroom staring up at the white board behind where her professor stood bumbling on about his trip to Vienna. He was difficult to pay attention to, so monotone and too detailed. Before having to listen to Dr. Clay’s itinerary, Vienna was one of the many places Justice dreamed of visiting. But the man had spoiled the appeal of the place with his dull face and dry thin lips going on and on about the price of the food and how he and his travel companions had a laugh because he got lost in the natural history museum and they spent over two hours walking in circles looking for each other. Justice couldn’t believe he hadn’t taken a cell phone with him, but she wasn’t at all surprised that he didn’t use one. He was one of those people who couldn’t change with the times as far as technology was concerned. It was 2008 and most everyone had their own cell phone. Justice’s was a simple flip phone that she had dropped so many times it had tape wrapped around it to keep the battery from falling out. The lucky college students carried smart phones, which supposedly outperformed a lot of computers. But Mr. Clay couldn’t even bring himself to use the newest word processor on the market, let alone buy a phone that didn’t need to be connected to a landline.

Justice usually daydreamed during most of her classes, about what her life would be like if she got an auto mechanic’s certificate and didn’t go to a university. She could get tattoos and drive a motorcycle. Or if she were to learn how to juggle, she could join the circus and fall in love with a trapeze artist. She wouldn’t be sitting in a cold, florescent lit classroom listening to Dr. Clay that’s for sure.

Today, instead of daydreaming, she couldn’t get her mind off the events of the night before. She and her coworker, Wayne, had gone to a college party down the road from her apartment. Wayne was always a bit of a bad influence on Justice. He had made his career at Virgil’s Donut Shop in downtown Dover and was always getting stoned and blasting South African rap through the back of the restaurant, unaware of what the customers might think. He honestly didn’t give a shit about what the general public thought of him. Justice was the exact opposite which was most likely the reason they got along so well.

At the party, Justice had a few drinks and remembered meeting a girl by the name of Chelsea Simms. She had long honey curls and a nose that rounded up at the end. Her cheeks were lightly freckled and she had perfectly straight white teeth. She was cute; the type of girl who would join a commune and skip showers and play the banjo or the ukulele. The best thing about her was that she seemed genuinely interested in Justice’s boring life. It wasn’t love at first sight or anything but they talked all night and had a good time together. She was an art major and loved the fact that Justice was more into mathematics than liberal arts or science or anything else that would be more interesting than math. ‘Anyone can love art and photography, but it takes a special kind of person to love math,’ Chelsea had joked. Justice was a true nerd and dished out enough sci-fi pop culture references to prove it.

At the end of the night the two of them exchanged phone numbers and Justice told Chelsea that she should stop by her work sometime and she would buy her a coffee. She had to be there at two o’clock and she hoped Chelsea would actually come by and see her.

Justice had only recently admitted to herself that she was a lesbian. Her senior year of high school had proven it to be so. It seemed ages ago. She was enamored with a girl named Kate Weston, whom she met on her debate team their senior year. They became good friends and spent every day together, after school, during lunch, study hall, weekends. Until one night when they were setting cross legged on the floor of Justice’s bedroom giggling at pictures in her year book. Kate leaned in and kissed her out of nowhere. Justice wasn’t sure how to react. She was in love with Kate and wanted to do more than just kiss. She wanted to spend the rest of her life taking Kate out on dates and doing sweet things that would make her smile, but things only got awkward when Justice tried to take it a little further. It turned out Kate was only using her so she could be a better kisser for some boy she liked. They argued about it at first, Justice didn’t understand why Kate would kiss her for the benefit of someone else. Wasn’t a kiss supposed to be sacred? Justice lost herself and confessed her intense feelings to Kate, and completely embarrassed herself. They avoided each other for the rest of senior year. After that they didn’t have to see each other ever again. The thought of Kate Weston sent a wave of shame down into Justice’s gut and came back up mistaking a broken heart for indigestion. At the end of senior year, Justice had felt like a puddle of muck that needed to be scraped up with a shovel and tossed away.

That one and only experience with a girl had left her feeling insecure about the whole girl loving, lesbian lifestyle. She decided to test what number she was on the lesbian scale and find a boy to make out with. She was twenty-one at the time; she started college a little later than most. He was a senior; she wasn’t sure how old he was, probably the same age as her. He was cute and fit. They met in one of her math classes. It was much easier with a boy and she didn’t even have to be the instigator. But she wasn’t into it at all. His beard scratched her chin and his clumsiness was disconcerting, he didn’t seem to be self-aware at all as he fumbled at clasp of her bra. She ended up panicking when he did finally get it undone. She had to make up an excuse to get out of his apartment. Stomach ache. The best excuse in the book.

After that fiasco Justice knew for sure. She finally came out to her best friend and old mathlete teammate Lisa who had gone to college on the other side of the continent after high school. Justice felt like the worst example of a lesbian. How would anyone even know she was a lesbian? How would Chelsea Simms, the girl from the party the night before, know she’s a lesbian? What do lesbians even look like? Justice was a jeans and T-shirt wearing kind of girl. Yeah she supposed she was okay looking. Lisa told her she looked very sophisticated with her dark hair and glasses, ‘like a strong lesbian business woman without the suit.’ She called it ANDROGYNOUS. Lisa and her big fancy words. Lisa’s comment about Justice’s time with her high school crush, Kate Weston, went like this, ‘Justice, you’re like the inept version of the female Clark Kent. You’re strong and clever, but maladroit and abhorred by the woman you love.’ Lisa was a good friend to rely on when Justice needed the truth.

Justice shook herself back to reality and noticed that class was more than halfway over. Dr. Clay finally moved on from Vienna to where the English language originated. She tried to pay attention but couldn’t keep herself from moving her eyes from the white board up to the clock, to the white board again and back up to the clock. She tried to play a game where she would stare at the white board for as long as she could without looking back up at the clock. It was excruciating, and her eyes inevitably would tear away from the board and back up to the clock and only a minute or two would have passed.

When class was finally dismissed, Justice rushed out of the classroom, the large arched hallways were filling up with zealous college students. She joined the pack and dodged the frenzied bodies on her way out of the building and practically leapt through the door out into the cool fall sun.

She did a half jog half speed-walk toward her apartment. It was only about ten minutes from campus. From there she would ride her bicycle to work. Her mother offered to buy her a car when she had begun her college career but she refused because she only lived and worked a few miles from school. She didn’t want to have to deal with paying for gas and the upkeep on a vehicle. Besides, the walks and bike rides through campus and downtown were stunning in the fall. Large colorful Victorian and colonial style homes lined the unusually wide streets on both sides between campus and the historic bricked downtown buildings. The trees were old and had huge twisted limbs that were lit up with deep reds, bright oranges, and pale yellows and greens. People decorated everything with Happy Harvest or Halloween décor. The air was crisp with a hint of firewood and fresh picked apples. Dover was famous for its apple orchards. The farmer’s markets were filled with apple goodies in the fall. There were pies, tarts, jellies and jams, breads, and… Apple butter. Apple butter, which was something Justice had never heard of until she moved to Dover, was more than just a guilty pleasure. It was an addiction. She had to make a stop at the market every time she ran out. She put it on everything. She even discovered that it was excellent in vanilla ice cream.


***

The donut shop where Justice spent the majority of her time was nestled in between the Dover History Museum and the local farmer’s market shop. The building the donut shop resided in was an old historic building that dated back to the early 1800s and the building which held the museum next door was even older. The market, on the other hand, was a new building that had recently been built where an old tavern once stood, it burned down back in the 1960s. No one knew how the fire got started but there had been a full house that night and when the police showed up there was sixty or seventy college students still hanging out around the burning building casually smoking cigarettes and zoning out on it like it was a bon fire.

When she made it to work, Justice burst through the back door of Virgil’s fumbling with the straps on the black apron she was required to wear. She turned the corner into the kitchen where Wayne sat on a stack of boxes that were leaning against the wall. She could tell he was in the middle of smoking a joint because his eyes were red and squinty and there was a faint skunky smell in the air. She did not approve of his smoking inside the building or even being high at work but she wasn’t the type to call people out. Besides, she really liked Wayne and didn’t want to change anything about him.

As he blew the last bit of smoke up into the oven vent he greeted her with a hey buddy nod in combination his easy smile. Justice returned the nod, clocked in at the time clock on the wall next to the tiny office, and went away at the mountainous pile of dishes left from the morning donut rush. She knew Wayne needed a break. And with the anxiety she felt over Chelsea possibly coming to see her had her dancing on her toes so she had to keep herself busy. She knew the likelihood of Chelsea showing up was slim but there was still a chance and she was holding on to that little piece of hope.

A few hours passed and the sun crashed down into an early autumn evening. Not many people came in for donuts at night except for the early party goers and the cops. Justice decided to give up on the idea of Chelsea. She wasn’t even sure if Chelsea liked her that way anyhow. Maybe Chelsea was just overly-friendly. She didn’t grimace when Justice flirted with her. But what if she was just not making a big deal out of it because she’s really nice? God I must’ve looked like a complete idiot, Justice thought.

She needed to forget about Chelsea and Wayne was an expert at keeping a person’s attention focused on him so it wasn’t much of a challenge for her. Chelsea who? Wayne was so animated with his big frizzy red hair sticking out of the headband that he always wore. His freckles moved and his eyes smiled with every word that he spoke. He was telling ghost stories in the spirit of October. Somehow hearing scary stories from Wayne was a lot more amusing than hearing them from her youth troop camp leader. Justice was sure Wayne was making them up as he went.

“Dude, let me tell you the story of the Screaming Steam Train,” as he said screaming steam train he held his hands out in front of his face and wiggled his fingers to make it sound more creepy. “Dude—okay, so, there was a guy, and his name was Charlie. So, Charlie moved to the outskirts of a small town somewhere in Virginia.”

Ghost stories always took place in the Northeastern United States when they were being told in the Northeastern United States. Justice was from Louisiana and she was so fascinated by the way people told ghost stories in Dover. Louisiana had the mysterious New Orleans and tales of Voodoo, and people being stalked and eaten by alligators in the swamps of the south. But New England had its own supernatural appeal, one which Justice was new to. Everything was haunted in Dover, including the donut shop, according to Wayne. Campus was haunted, every building in downtown was haunted, the historic homes were haunted. Everything. You could also hear screams, eerie singing, moaning, crying, or some other sound coming out of the so called haunted buildings at night. Usually at midnight, and usually on a special night, like Halloween night or Friday the 13th.

Suddenly the little brass bell above the front door rang signaling that there was a customer approaching the front counter.

“This is Officer Allen,” they heard a guy say. “Put the donuts in a box and leave them on the front counter and no one will get hurt.”

Justice came up to the front counter where Officer Allen and his partner Officer Morris were standing. Officer Allen had a self-amused look on his face and was holding back laughter through his thin wormy little lips. Justice rolled her eyes and mockingly said, “Oh please Officer Allen, don’t shoot, take all the donuts you want.”

Richard Allen and Chase Morris were in the donut shop practically every night they were on duty. Justice didn’t understand how Officer Morris spent so much time with Richard Allen without shooting, or at the very least, tasering him.

“You two stayin’ out of trouble?” Morris asked. Chase Morris was good looking. He had dark skin, big brown eyes, and a perfectly manicured goatee.

“Yes sir, there’s not a lot of trouble to find working in a donut shop,” Justice answered.

Richard Allen, half playful, half serious, threw his fist on the counter and said, “you’d be surprised,” he sniffed the air and raised an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure I smell weed. Do you smell that Chase?”

Justice and Officer Morris looked at each other and shrugged. Richard Allen started sniffing around the room when Wayne interrupted. “I got two coffees and a dozen assorted. It’s on the house tonight bros.”

“Thanks man,” Morris said as he took the donuts and handed a coffee to Richard Allen.

“Have you guys arrested anybody tonight?” Justice asked.

“Yep, we picked up a drunk driver and a guy who was high on methamphetamines and swimming half naked in a drainage ditch,” Allen gloated.

“Score!” Wayne said giving both officers high fives.

“Did you hear about that warehouse that disappeared?” Morris asked.

“No man, what do you mean disappeared?” Wayne responded.

“We got a call from an anonymous party,” Morris explained. “Talking about some type of electrical explosion at an abandoned warehouse here in town. They said there was a light as bright as a flash of lightening that lit up sky with blue-white. When the fire department got there, there was no light, no fire, no warehouse, no ashes, just dirt. And there is no scientific explanation for it. We thought it was a prank at first but satellite images show there was a warehouse, but now nothing, no warehouse, nothing. I can’t believe you didn’t hear about it. It was on the news.”

“I don’t watch the news but that’s pretty strange,” Justice said as she put her elbows on the counter and rested her chin in her hands. She couldn’t stand the news. She never knew what to believe when it came from a news reporter’s mouth.

“You guys are so full of shit,” Wayne said. But then he popped his finger up in the air, “could be aliens though.” He said it as a matter of fact. Like he had cracked the case and the cops didn’t have to worry any longer.

“Only pot heads believe in aliens,” Richard Allen said in an accusing tone.

“Dude, I don’t even know what pot looks like, man,” Wayne said in defense.

“Yeah right,” Allen said suspiciously glaring into Wayne’s glazed over eyes.

“Alright boys,” Morris interrupted. “Richard, we don’t want to get cut off from our coffee and donut connection—do we?”

The cops took their coffee and donuts and went back on duty. It was nearing midnight and Justice’s shift was almost over. Chelsea found her way back into Justice’s mind but she pushed her right back out. All the false hope she had earlier on that day seemed completely illogical to her at that point. I need to forget, she thought, there’s no way in hell she was really into me. She must’ve just been feeling drunk and friendly. Just forget about her.

“Man, I can’t stand that pig Richard Allen. That guy is a total dick,” Wayne said, breaking Justice’s disheartening train of thought.

“Yeah, agreed. So what do you think about that disappearing warehouse? Do you think they were making it up? Did they say where it was?”

“I don’t know man… maybe we should investigate. I could be like Sherlock and you could be my hot assistant.”

“Let me stop you there, Wayne. I let you call me man and dude only because I know that’s what you call everybody, probably including your own mother. But don’t ever refer to me as a hot assistant ever again. You got it?”

“Yeah I got you.” Wayne gave Justice a light punch in the arm assuring her that it was all good.

“So what about investigating the warehouse disappearance? I kind of like that idea. We should do that tomorrow when it’s daylight.” Justice said.

“Dude, I’m down for whatever. But I’m pretty sure they were making it up.” Wayne said.

Justice considered that, “I think it’ll be fun either way. We will both be off by tomorrow afternoon and I don’t want to go home and study. Oh yeah—and you need to finish that ghost story. It was just getting good.”

“Oh yeah, dude.” Wayne said with his eyes half closed and a big goofy smile on his face. “Okay man, so I was on the part where the guy saw the guy that went into the woods right? Okay, so the guy, Tommy—or was it Charlie? I think it was Charlie.”


Chapter Two


Saturday mornings at Virgil’s were always hectic. The crowds of people squeezed into the small shop so they could bend over the glass display case in front of the counter and pick out their favorite high calorie, sugar packed breakfast treats. Justice ran back and forth to grab a box and fill it with whatever the next customer asked for. She knew the most popular ones and kept them at the top so they would be easy to get to. Chocolate sprinkled, raspberry bismark, strawberry, cinnamon roll, and glazed. “Give me two of those, three of these, one of that one. The ones in the back please.” They always wanted the ones in the back. “The ones in the back are the freshest,” they would say. Not a true statement. Justice always put the freshest in the front that way they would keep a steady rotation and never go stale. You have to be smarter than the donut.

Wayne was hard at work in the back as far as Justice could tell. She heard pans hitting the floor followed with curses and other loud metal banging on metal sounds. Luckily the customers couldn’t hear him over their own buzzing voices. Wayne would wheel donuts out on a rolling bakery rack and Justice would quickly throw them into the display case. Their routine together at work was like a dance that they had perfected to the point where they didn’t even look like they were putting any effort into it. They only made eye contact for a split second and they knew what the other was thinking.

After the morning rush, the two of them spent an hour in silence so they could get the place cleaned up and recuperate from the frenzied sugar addicts. That was their ritual. They needed the silence to meditate on why some of the members of the human race turned into savage animals when they were in a restaurant. Wayne believes half of them are aliens and Justice believes they are all addicted to sugar and consumerism, the need for both leaves the addict feeling exacerbated after their day long binges.

Wayne finally broke the silence with: “Dude, Justice, so I kind of have like—a weird question to ask. See—my buddy Kyle needs a girl fr— Needs a date. The only girl he’s ever dated broke up with him like three months ago and he’s still all heartbroken over it. He’s a real good dude. And I know you haven’t had a date in over a year because no one has ever come in to see you and you’ve never mentioned having a boyfriend, so would you like—be interested? All you would have to do is go get a drink with him or something.”

Justice twitched a little and gave Wayne an irritated look. “How do you know I haven’t had a date?”

“Dude, you’ve worked here for over a year and I’m pretty sure I know everything you do: study, work, and sleep.”

Justice couldn’t help feeling angry about Wayne’s assumptions. She wasn’t sure what irritated her the most; the fact that he thought she liked guys or that she was a lonely spinster who didn’t have a life. She knew it wasn’t his fault but she was tired of people who thought they knew her so well but didn’t know her at all. She was sick of having her closeted secret. She was ashamed. She wanted to be out. She was twenty-two years old for goodness sake. How much longer should she wait?”

“Wayne I can’t—I’m…” She had to say it. She had never said it to anyone aside from her best friend Lisa. Why shouldn’t she say it to Wayne? He was her closest friend in Dover. Her heart began to pound. She felt the exact same one would right before they had to give a presentation in front of a classroom full of people. Maybe she should wait to tell him and make a presentation for the occasion, have slides and everything to go with it. On one of the slides she could show him what a lesbian looks like in her natural habitat. She could even use a laser pointer to point out that lesbians aren’t actually a threat to straight men. If only she had thought of that before, but it was now or never.

“I’m a lesbian,” she finally blurted out.

There was a little bit of an awkward silence. Wayne’s mouth fell open. He tried to lean onto the wall with his hand but missed and slightly tripped. The silence between them was so uncomfortable that Justice had to step into the office and fiddle with her time card but Wayne followed.

“Oooooh,” he finally responded. “That makes so much sense. Why didn’t you say that, dude? Aren’t we friends?” Wayne nudged her in the arm. He sounded genuinely apathetic about the fact.

“Honestly, besides my best friend from back home, you’re the only one I’ve told.”

“Are you kidding? Have you ever had a girlfriend or anything?”

“No I—I just.” Shame again. She didn’t want to explain to Wayne what she had gone through in high school with Kate Weston. It hurt too much.

“Dude, I know tons of lesbians. We should go out to Stripes. It’s a bar. A lesbo bar. When I first graduated from high school I was taken under the wing by my lesbian roommate and her friends. They taught me more about girls than my dude friends ever could. That’s why I’m such a ladies’ man.” He winked and then he smiled at Justice with adoration. “Man it’s actually pretty awesome to be helping a young lost lesbian out. When my first serious girlfriend broke my heart my lesbian friends took me out and made me forget all about her. They got me drunk and introduced me to some of their straight friends. Let’s just say I had a very good time that night.” Wayne’s thick red eyebrows bounced up and down.

Justice found Wayne’s enthusiasm to be a little peculiar. But she was also relieved by how well he took it. He was officially the second person she had come out to. It was a refreshing feeling to know that the world outside of high school accepts you for who you are. She came out to Lisa senior year after the Kate Weston incident and four years later she had finally come out to another person. She hoped that everyone would take it the way Wayne did. He made her feel like she was bursting out of the closet onto a red carpet with confetti and noise makers and hundreds of admirers.

“Look—this is very new to me. I mean—I’ve known for a long time, but I’m just now venturing out. I really don’t want things to move too fast,” Justice explained.

“Dude, you mean you’re still in the closet? Of course you are. I’ve known you for over a year and I had no clue. Don’t worry man. It’s just a bar. No one is gonna force you to do anything you don’t want to.” Wayne said.

“We’ll see. Let’s get out of here already; it’s been a long day.”


Chapter Three


Justice had finally agreed to let Wayne drag her to Stripes. It took her almost an hour to get ready, which was a considerable amount of time for her. She usually just threw on whatever she had that didn’t smell weird. But going to her first lesbian bar meant she had to actually put some effort into it. She had to choose between a T-shirt and hoodie combo, and a light blue button up collared shirt with a gray cardigan, which to her was more complicated than calculus. She chose the blue button up and cardigan combo in the end. She didn’t want people to think she didn’t care. But she also didn’t want people to think she cared too much. And felt like she was maybe overthinking everything because she was terribly anxious about the whole thing.

She felt herself ball up inside when they entered the bar. The feelings of rejection were suddenly fresh in her mind. Wayne noticed her discomfort and gave her the stoner’s reassuring eyebrow raise and a pat on the back that said hey man, everything is gonna be cool.

The bar was dimly lit and smelled of stale cigarette smoke mixed with alcohol and perfume. Smoking had been banned in the bars since before Justice moved to Dover but they were all still branded by the smell. There was a group of girls sitting at a cluster of tables near the entrance only a couple of feet from where Justice stood. They laughed loudly and seemed to be having five conversations at once. There were also a handful of girls on the dancefloor. They seemed to all know each other and danced like they’d had plenty to drink for the night, even though they were all still clutching their cocktails as they sloshed them around on the black tile.

Wayne and Justice grabbed a table in the corner and a tall thin blonde server rushed over to them. They both ordered a beer and began the typical ritual of going to a bar: uncomfortable silences and people watching.

“What do you think about her?” Wayne asked as he pointed to a tattooed brunette girl dancing with her group of friends.

Justice glared at him. “Wayne, I swear if you make this awkward, I’ll kill you.”

Wayne’s attention quickly turned to the other corner of the bar and Justice followed his curious eyes. There were two women communicating in sign language. One was a about a foot shorter than the other. She had porcelain skin and long coal black hair and appeared to be arguing with the taller one. The taller one, who couldn’t have been much taller than Justice, had an olive complexion but similar black hair pulled back into a fancy bun. She tried to take the short one into her arms but she jerked away from her. The odd thing was, there were two bigger men in expensive looking black suits standing near the bickering couple. They were drinking strait whiskeys, or some type of brown liquor, and talked closely to one another, but kept an eye on the two women all the same, and glanced around the bar with a calm alertness.

Justice leaned in to Wayne and whispered, “Do you think one of those girls is a celebrity or something?”

“I don’t think so man… not in Dover,” Wayne replied as he casually studied the pair of women.

The short angry one ended up throwing her drink in the taller one’s face and stomped off past the bar and out to the back porch where the smoking area was. The two men in suits followed her leaving the taller one alone in the corner with her head down, which made it clear who the men were keeping their eye on. The poor girl who was left standing there alone looked like she was about to burst into tears. She took her drink off of the corner table and downed it. When she was finished she slammed the empty glass on the counter in a bout of frustration and sat down on the bar stool in front of her. Justice couldn’t take her eyes off of her, until she turned and almost caught Justice staring. Justice quickly looked the other way to avoid eye contact. And she was so absorbed in the commotion the two women were creating on the other side of the bar she didn’t notice there was someone standing at their table.

“Aren’t you Justice? From the other night?” It was Chelsea Simms. There was a long pause. Justice was lost for words. She wasn’t prepared for an actual conversation. She felt herself beginning to blush. Say something, she demanded to herself.

“Yeah—uh—Chelsea, right?” Yeah like I could really forget, she thought.

“Yes, I’m glad you remembered,” she replied. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“Well I ordered one but it’s not here yet.” Justice frantically looked around to see if the waitress was anywhere in sight as if having the drink would be proof that she did indeed order a drink. I look like an idiot. God Justice, don’t act like a freaking idiot.

Chelsea stood awkwardly in front of their table for what seemed an eternity until Wayne finally chimed in. “Hey man—let me grab you a chair.” He pulled a chair from the empty table next to them and scooted it up to theirs. It seemed obvious to Justice that he meant to put the chair right up against hers so her bubble would be invaded. She had to admit it was a good strategy. Chelsea sat down and leaned in even closer, which made Justice so nervous she felt her heart leap up into her throat. She squirmed in her seat and couldn’t stop bouncing her leg. Why had it become so damn scary to sit and talk to this girl? It was easy that night at the party. Maybe Justice had expected less out of her then. Maybe it’s because the probability of Chelsea being into girls has gone up since she is hanging out in a lesbian bar.

“Dudes, I’m gonna go see what’s taking so long on the drinks,” Wayne said as he stood and left Justice alone to make small talk on her own.

Chelsea sat and peered over expectantly at her as Justice pretended to be into the music. She slowly bobbed her head and looked around trying to think of something to say. It was as if she had completely lost her ability to have a conversation. She had to break the silence. She wanted so bad to be brave and talk to Chelsea as easily as she was able to talk to her at the party.

“So—Chelsea, do you come here often?” Justice’s voice squeaked a little as if she were a teenage boy about to hit puberty. Shit Justice, don’t screw this up.

“Yes, this is actually my favorite bar in town. The drinks are cheap and the girls are free,” Chelsea joked as she raised her glass toward Justice. And there it is! It has been confirmed, Chelsea likes girls, Justice thought.

“Heh—yeah,” Justice looked down at her hands nervously, twisting them in her lap. She had to be calm. She forced herself to stop fidgeting and clasped her hands together on the table.

Chelsea put her hand down on Justice’s and locked eyes with her, “I’m only kidding,” she said, “I’m not always looking for a girl to take home. I promise.” How did Chelsea do that? She didn’t seem like she was nervous at all. Maybe that meant she didn’t like Justice the way Justice liked her. Maybe she just wanted to be friends.

Wayne returned with their drinks and plopped back down in his chair like he had been away some seemingly endless journey. Justice snatched her beer from him and took a long gulp, emptying half of it into her belly. When she sat it back down on the table she saw that Wayne was giving her a look that basically said what’s wrong with you? But then he quickly broke the silence.

“Man I just saw those two celebrity looking ladies making out near the bathroom. It was hot. I guess that means they made up,” he said.

“Oh are you talking about June Song and her interpreter Eleanor Costel?” Chelsea asked.

“Uh yeah—them. What’s with them?” Wayne asked.

Justice was glad she was no longer in the spotlight but also felt a little jealous of Wayne. He made talking to a girl look so easy.

“June’s dad owns a bunch of property around town. Everyone thinks that he’s the head of some type of mafia or whatever. He does look like the type. Also, those two gangster looking guys that they’re with all of the time doesn’t help if they’re trying to keep it on the DL. I heard her interpreter, Eleanor, carries a gun around with her.”

“Whoa, that’s kind of badass,” Justice said, forgetting how nervous she was before.

“Yeah, they’re a little intense.” Chelsea turned toward Justice, “they hang around the gay bars quite a bit though so we’re all used to them.”

“Hey Chelsea,” a girl from a couple of tables down broke in. “Are you coming or staying?”

“Staying,” Chelsea replied, as if she had already made up her mind a long time ago. The group of people she had been sitting with slowly made their way over, said their goodbyes, and left the bar.

Justice was becoming more and more confident with Chelsea as the night went on. The alcohol definitely helped. In fact, the three of them were having so much fun they lost track of the time and how much they had been drinking. By the time three o’clock rolled around, the bar closed and they found themselves outside sitting on the curb. They were all feeling pretty buzzed so they decided to call a cab to get home. There was a strong chill in the air but the alcohol made Justice numb to it. While they waited they played Would You Rather. Chelsea apparently would rather eat a handful of worms than get bitten by a rattlesnake even if there was antivenom at hand. Justice and Wayne agreed that her decision was completely disgusting and wrong.

A pair of headlights approached them on the street so they all got up. When the car stopped in front of them they realized that it wasn’t their taxi. It was an expensive looking black town car with dark tinted windows. The driver’s side door flew open and out stepped Eleanor, the interpreter who had been arguing with June Song earlier that night. She didn’t seem to notice them standing there watching her. She stomped right into the bar even though it was closed. The three of them watched the front door in silence, waiting to see what would go down next.

Finally Eleanor walked out of the bar carrying a black jacket. She must have left there by accident earlier in the evening. June Song stepped out of the car and signed something to Eleanor, and then Eleanor glanced over at the three of them drunkenly standing on the curb. Justice tried to make it less obvious that she was watching them, but it was near impossible. Finally, Eleanor turned to the three of them.

“Would you three like a ride home?” Her smile seemed forced. Her voice was smooth and sweet and deep and feminine all at the same time. She had a slight accent but Justice wasn’t sure where it was from. No wonder her job is an interpreter, Justice thought. People would probably kill to hear her talk, especially if she really is in the mafia.

Justice turned to Chelsea and Wayne. “Should we take it?” she asked. Wayne shrugged. Chelsea nodded. So they accepted the ride home. Who would pass up a free ride?

They piled into the back seat. Eleanor was driving and June sat next to her in the passenger seat. Justice wondered why the two bodyguards weren’t there with them. Did they sneak off without them?

Eleanor was truly captivating. Her blue eyes illuminated in the dark. Her wavy black hair set up in that perfect bun accented her olive complexion. She was dressed in black, skinny jeans and all.

June was beautiful as well. She had big brown eyes, perfectly straight and long silky black hair. Her skin was white and as smooth as silk. She also wore a lot of black. She was deaf but she could read lips and watched with complete attention when one of them spoke. When she watched Eleanor speak it was like she knew exactly how it sounded. She knew why people were so fascinated by Eleanor. Her voice could fill a room. No one spoke when she spoke. Justice could see on June’s face that she longed to hear Eleanor’s voice. She bit her lip and breathed hard when she watched her mouth move.

“Dude, did you hear about that warehouse that disappeared?” Wayne asked everyone.

They all shrugged, except Justice. June signed something and Eleanor interpreted.

“Tell us about it,” Eleanor said, sounding intrigued.

Wayne told the whole story that officer Morris had told him and Justice, only with a bit more of a story teller’s charm to it. Eleanor observed June as she watched Wayne’s lips, making sure she caught the entire story.

“That’s so wicked,” Chelsea said.

“Hmm, how strange,” Eleanor kept a courteous tone but didn’t seem impressed.

“Wayne thinks its aliens,” Justice said.

Chelsea turned to Justice and put her hand on Justice’s leg. “Do you think its aliens Justice?” she joked.

Justice could feel the heat from Chelsea’s hand move up her leg and into other parts of her body. She froze and began tense up, “Um—I” she took a deep breath, “I don’t know. It could be I suppose.”

Chelsea gave Justice an angelic smile and removed her hand. Justice relaxed. Come on Justice, you can do this.

Eleanor asked them where they needed to be dropped off and Justice knew it was too soon to spend the night, even if they were drunk. In the end they dropped them off at Chelsea’s apartment which was only a fifteen minute walk from Wayne’s house so Justice decided she would spend the night on Wayne’s couch.

They said their goodbyes to June and Eleanor which were short. Wayne slowly meandered down the sidewalk leaving Justice and Chelsea alone to say goodbye on the front walkway of her apartment complex.

Justice stepped closer to Chelsea, “It was really good hanging out with you tonight.”

Chelsea took Justice’s hand and lightly squeezed it. “It was good hanging out with you too. Do you still have my number? I think I gave it to you the night we met at that party.”

“Um, I think so” Justice pulled out her phone and opened up her contacts just for show. She knew that it was in there but for some reason she felt the need to put on a show. “Yep, there you are.” She became overly aware of Chelsea’s grip on her hand. She felt the moisture between their fingers and wondered who was sweating the most.

“Do you promise you’ll call me?” Chelsea asked.

Justice leaned in closer, “I definitely will,” she said.

They were face to face. Justice wouldn’t have been surprised if Chelsea could feel her heart beating through her fingertips. Their hands had become cemented together. Justice couldn’t think clearly enough to know what to do next. She could still feel the alcohol in her head. She wanted to kiss Chelsea but hesitated. A passing car laid on its horn and made the two of them jump.

“I better catch up with Wayne,” Justice said shyly.

“Okay, see you,” Chelsea replied.

Wayne was meandering up the sidewalk running his hand up against some evergreen bushes that bordered a Greek house. It had to be around four in the morning since the bars in Dover closed at three. Justice couldn’t believe that only a few hours ago she had left work, spent an hour getting ready, and then ran into Chelsea at the bar. She also thought of June and Eleanor. Eleanor was so charming. Had she shown any interest in Justice at all? She couldn’t quite remember. She felt too inebriated to make sense of anything that she had done throughout the night. And why would Eleanor pay any attention to Justice when she had June? And why was Justice so enthralled with Eleanor when Chelsea was clearly interested in her?

“So?” Wayne asked.

“So what?”

“Did you make any moves?”

“Wayne, c’mon, I’m not gonna tell you,”

“Just thought I’d ask.”

The rest of their walk home was quiet. Justice’s thoughts were dominated by Chelsea. She was giddy. I think we almost kissed, she thought, we could’ve kissed and she actually wants to, she wants to as much as I do. She thought about Kate Weston, her high school crush, and how upsetting and awkward and frustrating that relationship was, but also how Chelsea was actually a lesbian who was actually into her. Justice wasn’t just some experiment or practice for the boys to Chelsea.

Justice slept on Wayne’s couch and dreamt about June and Eleanor and the warehouse blowing up. Except it didn’t explode in a bright flash of light like Chase Morris had described, in her dream it blew up into a giant gray mushroom cloud and destroyed the whole city in one swift swipe of its blazing glory.


Chapter Four


Justice awoke to Wayne and his long haired hippie friend, Mike, sitting on the living room floor playing video games and eating day old donuts. Justice thought Mike resembled a bull dog. He was short but he looked like he could give someone a bloody nose if they looked at him funny. He was generally the quiet type but would throw a joke into the conversation wherever he could. Justice liked that about him. She found that his personality was less intimidating than his looks.

Justice slowly lifted her head up from her pillow and the room began to spin. She felt like there was a nail being hammered into her skull so she laid her head back down and folded her arms over her face.

“Justice, dude, are you up? I got some donuts. You know you want some.” Wayne pushed the open donut box across the floor toward Justice.

“No.” She wasn’t in the mood for Wayne’s colorful personality or his donuts.

“I think that Chelsea chick liked you,” he teased.

“Don’t call her a chick.” She stood up and her head started pulsating with pain. She thought about all of the homework she needed to get done and remembered why she was never interested in hanging out with the partying crowd. She felt a tinge of nausea surge through her belly.

“Damn Wayne, you’re a misogynistic asshole,” Mike said playfully.

“Oh sorry… Girl—I mean,” Wayne didn’t look away from the video game he was playing so there was no way he could see the exacerbation on Justice’s face. The way his fingers pounded away at the buttons on his controller was driving her crazy. Her heart felt like it was beating out of her ears. She wished she hadn’t had so much to drink. But it had given her the courage to talk to Chelsea, she was grateful for that. But at the same time she felt ashamed for needing alcohol to flirt with a girl.

“I’ve got to go to the library to do homework. Do you want to hang out after I’m done?” Justice asked.

“Sure dude. Hit me up.” Wayne and Mike went back to their video games as Justice hobbled into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water. She took some of the ibuprofen that Wayne always had sitting on his cluttered counter and went back to the couch to put on her shoes and jacket. She wasn’t sure if she was going to make it through the day with such a terrible hangover but she forced herself up off of the couch after she had tied her shoes and left before Wayne could even return her goodbye.


***

The library was mostly barren aside from a couple of students reading in the big open atrium. Justice hurried up the stairs to the second floor where she bought a breakfast sandwich and a coffee at the little stand that was nestled in the back. The library always smelled of freshly ground coffee and Justice could never resist. She snagged a seat in the empty computer lab and wolfed the sandwich down and then pulled her homework out of her backpack and went to work. To her surprise, the walk from Wayne’s house to her apartment and then the bike ride to the library had somewhat eased her hangover.

About thirty minutes into figuring math formulas her mind began to wander to the warehouse that Wayne had brought up in the car last night. She signed into her computer and typed warehouse disappearance into the search bar. The first thing that popped up was an address: West 23rd Street. Man that was easy. Wait… Did just say man? Dammit Wayne! She printed out directions and slipped them into her backpack. Unfortunately she wasn’t one of the few lucky people who carried a smart phone or had a GPS so she had to print directions off from the computer.

After she finished her chemistry homework she hopped on her bike and rushed back over to Wayne’s house. She couldn’t believe how much better she was feeling and how nice it was to be back on her bicycle. Bike rides never got old. She could ride every day and feel as if it had been a completely new experience from the last. Something as small as the wind or the time of day could change the way a ride went.

When she arrived at Wayne’s house, neither he nor his friend Mike had moved from the living room in the last four hours. They were playing a different video game and eating delivery Chinese food. The sun had moved out of the path of the front window which made the house too dark for daytime, and it reeked of skunky marijuana and body odor.

“Wayne do you want to leave your smelly cave and go check out the spot where that warehouse disappeared?” she asked.

“Hell yes I do, where is it?” Wayne said, again never taking his eyes off the video game. How could he stay so glued to a video game for so many hours?

Justice pulled the address out of her backpack, “West 23rd street.” She stuck the directions in his face and he finally put his controller down and studied them.

“This is in the old sect.” Wayne had a little bit of hesitation in his voice.

“Is that bad?” Justice said.

Wayne shrugged, “it isn’t the best.” He pulled himself up off of the floor and put on his sandals and an old gray sweater that had a hole in the sleeve. Then he went into his room and brought out an old wooden baseball bat.

“What’s that for?” Justice said as she eyed the bat.

“Protection,” Wayne said.

“You seem a little… uneasy about going to this old sect place.”

Wayne shrugged, “it’s not that, I mean yeah, it’s a little sketchy. When I was in high school me and some friends went there to, you know, do whatever high school kids do, and we found a dead guy so we had to call the cops and whatnot.”

Justice put her hand over her mouth, “Oh my god!”

“Yeah dude, it was a homeless guy, died in his sleep. But I haven’t been back to the old sect since.”

“That’s horrible. We shouldn’t go.” Justice couldn’t believe she was about to drag him out there. It had to have been pretty traumatizing to come across a dead body like that. If she put herself in his shoes she certainly wouldn’t have wanted to go.

“No dude, we should go, it’s no different than seeing my grandpa in his coffin at his funeral. It’s not like the guy was murdered or anything.”

Justice made it very clear that they didn’t have to go. But Wayne insisted that it wasn’t a big deal so they left Mike in the living room to protect the video games and leftovers.

Wayne drove a sky blue van freckled with rust that his older brother Colby had given him after he had graduated from college. He figured Wayne would fix it up and drive it to school when he decided to go to college, but he never did. Wayne was happy enough being a donut shop supervisor and he liked that the van was old and beat up. ‘It gives her personality,’ he would always say. When he put the key into the ignition to start it, it usually rolled over twice and then started on the third.

This time it took four times. They didn’t have to go far. West 23rd street was in the old industrial sector of the city which was on the other side of downtown on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The old industrial sector held miles and miles of ancient and abandoned metal manufacturing buildings and warehouses that were mostly caved in at the top or overrun with rats and weeds. At the end of the old sector when it hit the coast there were tons of dingy, broken down docks for commercial boat storage. No one used it anymore of course, because the docks were decaying and Dover was no longer a port town. The old sect felt more like a ghost town than anything. The homeless had squatted in some of the decrepit buildings but most of them were too rundown to live in, or too terrifying. Dover residents, including the homeless, were known for telling good ghost stories and a lot of those stories took place in the old industrial sector.

This was the first time Justice had ever been to the old sector. No wonder we didn’t see anything on the news about the warehouse disappearance, Justice thought as they came upon the sector, nobody cares about this place. If a different building in a more important part of the city were to disappear out of nowhere, people would start talking then.

West 23rd Street was also a barren wasteland of old rusted warehouses. Most of the parking lots and walkways were cracked and overgrown with clusters of tall weeds and grass. It was a dandelion’s paradise. They parked the bus and climbed out. The sun was still lingering in the sky and the wind had picked up because they were right next to the water. Justice had never known rust to have a smell but she felt like she could smell it now and it stuck in her nose and made her mouth dry and her teeth clench against her tongue.

Wayne snatched his bat out of the back of the van. Justice studied the area for a moment, taking in all the squander and gloom. The breeze whistled off of the top of the corroded tin roofs. From far off they could hear the squawk of seabirds fighting over their dinner.

Justice and Wayne began to weave around each warehouse looking for the empty lot. The ground became thick with torn up newspaper and other ragged debris. Justice’s calves itched from the tall grass that kept reaching out and slapping her skin.

“We must be getting close,” Wayne said.

Justice began to feel strangely frightened of what they might find so she thought about Chelsea. “So—do you really think Chelsea likes me?” she asked Wayne, recalling the night before.

“Yeah man, she definitely does—”

Justice caught a glimpse of yellow in a clearing that was out of place with the rest of the uniform warehouses. She froze and put her arm out to catch Wayne’s attention. “There it is,” she said.

Yellow and black caution tape hugged the invisible barrier with the giant rectangular indention in the earth. What was left of the bordering grass was black and fringed, facing away from the hole like it was trying to get away from it.

Wayne pulled up the caution tape and stepped under it. Justice followed. The ground reminded Justice of the dirt of a freshly manicured baseball field. Besides the burnt grass that bordered the plot, it didn’t look like the scene of an explosion.

“The warehouse must’ve literally been zapped out of existence. Maybe it really was aliens!” Justice said, half joking, half not.

She spotted two shadows moving against a wall on the other side of the crime scene. She felt that familiar ping in her chest and her heart began to speed up. She grabbed Wayne by the arm of his shirt and pulled him back behind a neighboring warehouse. They both squatted down and Justice peeked around the building.

“Did you see that?” She whispered, trying not to breathe too heavily.

“No—what?” Wayne asked.

“There’s someone on the other side of that building.” She said, pointing in the direction of the shadows.

Wayne stood, fixed his shirt, dusted his pants, and slung his baseball bat over his shoulder. “Well let’s go see who it is.”

“Hell no. What if—What if—”

Wayne smiled and raised an eyebrow, “Aliens?”

“Shut up,” Justice said as she slammed her fist into Wayne’s arm.

They heard footsteps in the grass behind them now. Justice closed her eyes, hoping she would wake up from a dream. Wayne readied his bat and spun around to face whatever unwanted presence was stocking them.

“Hey—what are you dudes doing here?” Wayne’s voice sounded pleasantly relieved.

Justice let out a sigh of relief and turned.

“Eleanor? June?” she said.


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