May 16, 2018 by Marguerite Ashton
Newly sober and dating the man of her dreams, Traci Collins is ready to enjoy the good life, until her new best friend, Olivia Durning, confides a dreadful secret far worse than Traci could imagine.
Sealed by a shared bond, and unaware there is more to the secret than what she was told, Collins feels honor-bound to protect her friend when a confrontation between Olivia and her childhood tormentor turns deadly.
A mysterious text forces Traci to question Olivia’s actions and re-examine her loyalties. When the answers to Traci’s questions endanger a life she treasures more than her own, she must decide if friendship has a limit. For a bridge once burnt severs ties forever…
For the last forty-two days, Duran’s coffeehouse had served as my refuge from the temptation of the dark piss colored brew that had slowly eaten away at the lining of my gullet year after year. Alcohol had stopped being my best friend, and it was now my worst enemy. Popping a little white pill to settle the rogue waves of acid reflux was a daily reminder of what I had done to my already marred body.
Therefore, paying $4.50 for a 16 oz. cup of gourmet coffee meant that even my wallet had to do penance for my troubled addiction. On the upside, however, Duran’s served good food, had a glorious view of the distant Rocky Mountains and was just ten minutes outside of Denver, in Cherry Creek. I enjoyed the ambiance and welcomed the conversations affording access to others’ semi-private lives.
For a Sunday afternoon, it was unusually quiet. No line of impatient customers jockeyed for position at the counter; the only people there were we four and a couple sitting across the room talking in hushed voices. Dark clouds spread across the skyline as a heavy thunderstorm brewed outside. My grandmother used to say thunderstorms washed away bad memories and made room for new ones. With every storm, I wished I could prove Grandma right. I wanted my turn to come so I could erase the memory of my car accident. It was only one of the many putrid recollections I had of my mother.
A month and a half ago, after fifteen years of polluting my liver, I had hit bottom. Sipping on the long neck bottles that housed my favorite beer seven days a week had finally lost its allure. I woke up one Saturday evening from a drunken slumber on the floor, my computer desk chair at my side, with a bruise on my shoulder, thinking it was Sunday.
It was nice to see the world more clearly instead of the usual old blur after a night of drinking. It was a difficult choice, but I could already feel a difference.
Even my co-workers at the law firm noticed and had begun complimenting me on how much happier I looked. In a way, I was envious of the other paralegals in my section. Before I stopped drinking, the ladies and I would go to the bar once or twice a week to unwind. Now, I had to politely decline every time they asked.
An upside to my new sobriety was that I made three new friends: Olivia Durning, Norman Mercer, and Kevin Walsh. I thought it was odd that I could feel closer to a group of strangers than I could to my own mother. It reminded me of my college days where finding a connection was so easy, so fast, so necessary.
The first time I had a good look at Norman was when he stepped out of his black Lexus GS at the coffee shop. He struck me as the kind of guy who was a knight in shining armor to any female in distress. Blond, with a manicured scruff of stubble, he wore a v-neck shirt with long sleeves and dark wide leg jeans. It was like seeing my favorite Hollywood actor, Roy Majors, back in his heyday, only Norman was more reserved, and nothing overwhelmed him. His Texas accent was as strong as his political opinions while his southern manners showed he was a true gentleman.
“Okay. What’s your count?” Norman asked, interrupting my thoughts, pointing his finger at me.
“Twenty days,” Olivia said.
“I’m closer to sixty and still going strong,” said Kevin.
“You never give me the exact day, my friend.”
“I believe in setting a mental goal and striving to make it happen.”
“All right,” Norman said. “I’m at ninety-seven days.”
“Hey, Traci,” Kevin said, pulling out a deck of cards, “did you forget you owe me a game of Crazy Eights?”
“No, but if you insist on losing another round, I’m ready.”
When I met Kevin, he threw me off balance with his tough guy exterior, raunchy humor, and bright intellect. Some of the things that dribbled from his mouth should’ve stayed put, locked behind the chinstrap beard outlining his narrow jaw.
Approaching his forties, Kevin’s feet were grounded firmly as a single father. Two minutes with him was enough for anyone to realize that his twin daughters were his focus in life. To show his love, he sported different style vests to display his pledge tattoo that bore the names of his little girls spelled out in blue ink flanking a pair of angel wings across his shoulder blades. He dared for anyone to challenge that love.
Kevin dealt the cards while Norman tapped away on his notepad.
“Olivia, do you want to play?” I asked.
“I guess so.”
Kevin stopped dealing out cards. Norman looked up.
I turned in my chair to face her. “Is something the matter?”
“My birthday is coming up, and it’s not something that I’m looking forward to.”
Kevin laughed. “Who doesn’t like celebrating their birthday?”
Norman shook his head, pressing his index finger to his lips. Olivia noticed and her eyes widened. “Jesus. You told Norman?” she asked, hurling her cards at me.
I picked them up and laid them neatly on the table.
Olivia was a sweet girl with a thin rail frame who took pride in the long chestnut brown hair she kept in a ponytail held with multiple decorative hair ties. She had small eyes like black dots printed on fabric that resisted being a set of the three primary colors. They were lonely and dim. The only time they flickered with life was when she sang. Her voice was as smooth as a saxophone. When she spoke, her words fell from her lips with grace, and when she belted out a song she’d written, her listeners held their breath, enchanted. I believed her songs were telling her story, spilling out her soul of great heartache and dreams.
“I only told Norman because I thought you trusted him. You’ve told me as much yourself.”
“When did this happen?”
“A couple days ago.”
“She’d left her reading glasses here last Sunday, and I ran them over to her,” Norman said.
“I was bothered by what you told me,” I said, knowing how lame I sounded. “Believe me, I regretted it immediately after I said it.”
“It’s a good thing I didn’t tell you my entire story.”
“What story?” Kevin said.
“Olivia–” Norman began.
“It’s okay,” I told him. “I deserved that. I promise not to betray your trust again.”
Olivia snatched the cards off the table and fanned them in her hand. “Can we just play?”
Kevin dealt the rest of the cards. “I hope you know you can talk to me, too.” He placed the remaining stack of cards in the middle of the table.
Olivia pursed her thin lips and pulled from the deck. “I’m not mad. I’m embarrassed.”
She laid out her first spread of three fives.
“What happened to you was not your fault,” Norman said.
I played from my hand and waited for Kevin to make his move as he concentrated on what to play next.
Olivia retreated into her own world, tracing the sinew strands of her dream catcher.
“Is that a new one?” I asked.
“Yes. I love the feathers on it.
“Does it really stop bad dreams?” Kevin wondered.
“Most of the time, but I think some of my dreams are too horrid even for a dream catcher.”
“You’re not alone,” Norman said.
“Drinking used to help me sleep. Forget the past for a night.” Olivia placed the dream catcher in her lap. “It didn’t take long for it to stop working.”
“That’s how it was for me,” Kevin said. “Then I began using anything I could as an excuse to drink.”
“Same here,” I said. “One thing I’m certain of – it feels good not to wake up with a pounding headache.”
We all laughed and finished our game, which I lost. Kevin ordered another round of javas to go, and we packed our things.”
“Are we still doing our Thursday dinner?” Olivia asked.
“At six,” I confirmed.
“I have to stop by the hospital first, to pick up my reinstatement papers,” said Norman.
“Congratulations! We’ll make it a celebratory dinner.”
“I’d like that.”
“I’ll pick up the food after my counseling appointment,” Olivia offered.
Everyone else got up and waited for me to stand.
I grabbed my onyx cane and struggled to get out of my chair. My knee ached more than usual, which meant a change in the weather was coming.
A storm — a big one — was brewing.”
If a friend told you a secret, how far would you go to keep it?