Friday morning, early June; Atlanta suburbs
It was 6 am when Carol Greene’s cell phone alarm began beeping loudly, alerting her that it was time to rise and shine for work. But there was one little problem… she was off that day.
“How do I keep forgetting to cancel that alarm?” she groaned under her breath as she felt around under her pillow in an attempt to find the phone and stop the annoying sound.
School had been closed for summer break since that past Tuesday afternoon and that Friday morning was the third in a row that she’d been unnecessarily awakened at the crack of dawn. She’d wanted to get up early, but certainly not THAT early and thankfully she didn’t have to race against the clock to get showered and dressed, then fight Atlanta’s bustling morning rush hour traffic to get to her office on time at Woodbury Senior High, the large public school where she’d served as an Assistant Principal for the past 3 years.
Carol had hoped to sleep in and get up around nine or so or ten at the very latest, particularly since she’d been up until well after two the night before, doing laundry and packing in preparation for her road trip to the beach that day. Her good friend Michonne Douglass’ beach house in sunny Savannah, Georgia was her destination and she’d wanted to skip the crazy morning traffic yet leave before lunchtime to beat all of the other weekend beach goers as well, but she wasn’t in a hurry by any means; she was officially on vacation and knew that the beach would still be there no matter what time she arrived.
Carol was able to doze back off but an hour later she was awakened again; that time by her 19 year old daughter Sophia’s alarm clock going off down the hall. Sophia had always been a hard sleeper and had her alarm set at a volume that could wake the dead. Before long Carol heard Australian rock band Tame Impala playing in her daughter’s bedroom and then heard her singing along (loudly and quite off key) to “The Less I Know The Better,” her favorite song from their Currents album, while in the shower. At that point Carol gave up on the dream of sleeping in and figured that she might as well just get up and start her busy day. She opened her curtains and mini blinds to let the morning sunshine in, changed her bed linens then dragged herself into her en-suite bathroom for a hot shower.
After brushing her teeth and smoothing her closely cropped, mixed gray pixie cut back with a dab of hair gel, she applied a coat of black mascara to her naturally long lashes to accentuate her ice blue eyes, a hint of blush to her cheeks and a dab of nude lipstick to her lips. She dressed casually for her road trip, opting for a comfy pair of khaki Capri pants, a sleeveless, black cotton tank and a pair of tan leather driving moccasins with a few silver accessories. She then spritzed on an extra spray of MAC Turquatic® perfume (her absolute favorite scent for the summertime) and tossed the bottle into her vintage Louis Vuitton Speedy 35 handbag, then added a few other last minute selected articles of clothing into the largest suitcase from her 3 piece matching luggage set then dragged it downstairs and put it with the others by the front door of the spacious two story townhouse she shared with Sophia and her Persian mix cat, Mimi. Carol fed the affectionate animal, who nuzzled her legs as she waited patiently beside her bowl for her breakfast, then started a pot of coffee before darting back upstairs to grab her laptop, its charger, and a half dozen or so of her composition books and notepads, as well as a few other small office supplies that she had already packed into a large rubber tote container.
The purpose of going to Savannah was to relax and write; her goal was to add the last few chapters to Insatiable Desires, the first in a three part series of adults only novellas (mini novels) she’d been working on, and she knew that going to the beach as soon as her summer vacation began would give her some much needed inspiration.
Carol was a language arts teacher by education and a school administrator by promotion, but more recently she’d become a fiction writer by trade. Writing had somewhat taken over everything else, and this particular summer vacation was about to mark the end of her school career and the beginning of her professional writing career.
The last day of school had officially been her last day of work for the Atlanta school system since she’d opted for one of their new early retirement plans. Carol had put in exactly 20 years, first as a teacher’s aide, then teaching middle school Language Arts for a few years after she graduated from college, and after that found she’d her niche teaching high school French since she was a fluent speaker, and taught it quite well for well over a decade until a few years ago when the Assistant Principal position became available at Woodbury High. She jumped at the opportunity and the principal, Morgan Jones, practically hired her on the spot during their brief interview.
It had been wonderful working at Woodbury; she loved the kids there and Morgan was an awesome boss but when the chance came to take an early retirement and focus on her writing, Carol jumped at that opportunity as well. She was ready to try something new. She was set to receive a large lump sum up front to do with as she pleased, and the remaining bulk of her pension would still kick in when she turned 62. But that was a long way off so it helped immensely that she’d turned a few short stories that she’d written while going through her divorce from her ex-husband Tobin close to two years prior into a series of racy, online mini romance novels or ‘novellas’, and after gaining a rather sizeable following and shopping a compilation project around it got picked up by a small, yet growing publishing house in Atlanta. The books sold quite well and she’d recently signed a 3 book, six figure deal, so she was set financially for the next few years at least and would become quite well off in time if things continued as they were going with the project. The first e-book, ‘Passionate Diversions,’ had been a big success and there were already talks of developing one of the storylines into a web series if the upcoming installments sold as well as the first and the publishers projected that they would. She still had a few weeks until the first book in the three part series was due to be reviewed before publishing began and was scheduled to be distributed later in the summer, and she planned to finish it up at her favorite place in the world to relax, the beach in Savannah. Once she and Michonne had become friends, she’d offered Carol the privilege of staying at her beach house whenever she liked and Carol couldn’t wait to finally take advantage of the offer to check the place out.
Once she was sure that everything she needed to take with her was by the door, she headed back into the kitchen to make breakfast. Carol was a southern girl, and as such prepared grits and home fries with country bacon and scrambled eggs with cheese, then cut up some honeydew melon and strawberries for herself and Sophia. She would’ve whipped up a quick batch of Bisquick buttermilk biscuits or pancakes, or at the very least a small pan of cornbread from scratch as well but knew that she didn’t have that much time before Sophia left for work so she improvised and tossed a few slices of whole wheat bread into the toaster oven.
Just then Sophia came bounding down the stairs. “Hey Ma! Breakfast smells awesome… especially that coffee!” she exclaimed, tossing her oversized duffle bag onto the floor before helping herself to a tall cup of the steaming brew, adding a splash of Irish cream and a little sugar.
Carol glanced at her beautiful daughter with a proud grin. Sophia had just completed her sophomore year at Alabama State and was home for the summer. She was all grown up but when Carol looked at her she still saw her precious baby girl with chubby, rosy cheeks, fat little legs, long blond pigtails and her father Ed’s striking pale, gray eyes.
Sophia and her best friend Enid had both been rehired to work at Lake Senoia summer camp, where they’d both worked every summer since they were juniors in high school; Enid as a camp counselor and Sophia as a lifeguard. She was dressed in a pair of short cutoff jean shorts, a blue Lake Senoia Camp Staff t-shirt, a thin gold anklet and a pair of white flip flops. Her wavy, near waist-length, ‘dirty blonde’ hair was pulled up into a high, messy bun and the spaghetti straps of her blue halter style swimsuit were also visible, tied in a knotted bow behind her neck. She looked effortlessly cool in her pink lip gloss with glittery fingernail and toenail polish and had completed her look with her pair of diamond stud earrings (a birthday present from her step-father, Tobin,) a thin gold bangle bracelet on one wrist and a waterproof wristwatch on the other (both ‘just because’ gifts from Carol), as well as a gold promise ring, and a thin gold chain necklace with the letter ‘C’ charm, both from her boyfriend, Carl Grimes.
“You want some breakfast, sweetie?” Carol asked warmly. “I made grits, fried potatoes, eggs & bacon and the toast’s just about…done,” she added with a wink a second before retrieving it from the toaster.
“I don’t think I have time to eat all that mom, but thanks anyway. Enid’s gonna be here any minute now to pick me up. We plan on saving a ton on gas by rotating driving each other to work this summer. I’ll just grab something a little later. They’ve got burgers and wraps, soft pretzels, smoothies, funnel cake, ice cream bars, pita chips with hummus, burritos and pizza fries among other things at the camp snack bar.”
“Pizza… fries? What in the world are those?”
“O.M.G. Ma! You’ve never had pizza fries?”
“I don’t believe so… what are they exactly? Pizza with French fries on it?” she asked wrinkling up her nose.
“No!” Sophia giggled. “They’re seasoned steak fries baked in marinara and loaded with layers of melted mozzarella cheese and you can get other toppings like mushrooms, peppers, sausage or pepperoni on them. They’re awesome!”
“That’s not real food!” Carol frowned. “That’s junk! Soph I wish you’d eat something healthy before you leave. I went to all this trouble just to make you a nutritious breakfast.”
“Mother, fried eggs smothered with cheddar, grits dripping with melted butter and thick cut bacon deep fried in its own fat are anything but nutritious and you know it… they all just taste amazing,” she laughed. “And you know I’m trying the whole vegetarian thing again so no bacon for me. I will take some of the fruit and a piece of toast, but I’ll have to get it to go.”
“No problem. I’ll put the fruit into a container and make you a breakfast sandwich with the toast AND some of the eggs. Since you eat pizza fries and pizza too the last time I checked that makes you a lacto-ovo vegetarian which means you can have dairy and eggs. You need all the protein you can get if you aren’t eating meat! And I’m sending one for Enid too… both of you girls are entirely too thin,” Carol groaned in a worried motherly voice.
“We won’t be thin for very long if someone I know continues force feeding us,” she smirked. “And you may think I’m too skinny but I’ve gained almost five pounds since I’ve been back home. Between your country cooking, the pizza fries at work and Carl’s dinner dates, I’ll be up another dress size in no time. But Carl seems to like my new curves well enough…” she then added with a suggestive wink.
“Oh hush,” Carol said with a wave of her hand as she quickly made the breakfast sandwiches and packed up the fruit. “Now Soph you know I’m leaving today. Are you sure you’re gonna be okay here alone while I’m gone?”
“Of course! You’re just going to Savannah for a couple of days, no big deal. It’s not like you’re going to the moon,” she laughed with a sarcastic snort.
“It’s more than a couple of days, Sophia; I’m gonna be out there a little over a week. But just remember Savannah’s less than 4 hours away; I’ll haul tail right back if you need me.”
“Mom please don’t cut your trip short on account of worrying about me! I’ll be fine! I’m a grown up, remember… I’ll be 20 years old in a couple of months and I lived alone away at school for the past two years!”
“You did not live alone! You‘re in one of the biggest dorms on campus!”
“Yes, but I had a room to myself last semester,” she insisted.
“Look Mom, I’ll be fine here by myself… The house is stocked with food and if I run out, I’ll simply buy more! My car’s practically good as new since I got it worked on last month and I have money. Things are gonna be totally normal while you’re away. Carl and Ron are taking Enid and I to the movies tonight, and I’m babysitting Lizzie and Mika tomorrow night. I’m off on Sunday so Carl and I are going to play mini golf over in Macon. Otis and Patricia are right next door if I need anything and Ms. Jacqui’s just down the street and they all have spare keys in case by some freak accident I lock myself out of the house. If I get sick I’ll call Cousin Maggie’s doctor husband Glenn and if Mimi gets sick I’ll call Uncle Hershel… and you know I can always depend on Carl to come over anytime I start feeling lonely,” she added with a smirk while wiggling her brows.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Carol groaned.
“Mother I’m just kidding! He’ll probably come over to chill with me some evenings but I’m not gonna invite Carl to spend the night every night while you’re gone!”
“I know honey but if you do I trust you two to be careful and responsible and use protection. I know you’re an adult now and in a relationship… it’s just that I know all too well how it is to be young and in love and I just don’t want you getting in too deep before you even finish school.”
“I know! He and I both promised you and Mr. Rick that we’d wait until we graduated to even think about getting engaged, so don’t worry, okay? Even though Ms. Lori says she can’t wait to plan our wedding. She said we should think about going to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico for our honeymoon; that’s where she and Mr. Shane went for theirs, and she even said that Judith can be our flower girl but if we wait too late she’ll be too old and have to be a junior bridesmaid.”
Carol rolled her eyes. She’d met Carl’s mother, Lori Walsh, at Carl’s graduation party. The party was held at his dad, Sherriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes’ home two summers prior and Carol could tell that she was quite the character. She was ultra-snobby, bossy and beyond vain about her ‘high school skinny’ figure, and she flitted around the party in a TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE skintight, low cut, mini dress and sky high stiletto heels like she was the prom queen, and it was very obvious that she had her hunky new husband, Shane Walsh, wrapped tightly around her little finger. There was a high level of tension between Shane and Rick, but they kept it contained for Carl’s sake.
Carol had heard through the grapevine that the reason Carl’s dad divorced Lori was that she’d cheated on him with Shane, who just happened to be his former partner on the King County police force, as well as Carl’s godfather. Lori had gotten pregnant by Shane during the affair and had left Rick for him. She later married the guy and moved away with him to Bayside, just outside Savannah, which explained why Carl’s much younger sister Judith had a different last name and didn’t ever stay with Rick on the weekends like Carl always had since Sophia started dating him and Carol first met the family. She was surprised that Lori even liked Sophia… women that self-centered and attention hungry usually hated their son’s girlfriends; unfortunately she knew that all too well from experience; Sophia’s dad, Ed’s mother couldn’t stand her while they were dating.
“Figures,” Carol muttered. “But don’t you pay her ANY attention. Your only focus for now is completing your college education. You haven’t even declared a major yet; one week it’s Fashion Design, the next it’s Interior Design, then a few months ago you mentioned something about Fashion Merchandising. The last thing you need to be thinking about are wedding dresses and honeymoon locations! Now will you remember to activate the alarm whenever you leave the house and come back in?”
“Yessss Mother,” Sophia groaned.
“And did I let you know that there’s a little over a two thousand in cash in the safe in my walk in closet as well as my other emergency credit cards,” Carol whispered as if someone might over hear them.
“Yeah, yeah…” Sophia mumbled as she chose that moment to check some social media site on her cell phone.
“Sophia Marie Peletier? Are you even listening to me? You need to know that money’s up there in case your car breaks down again or the roof starts leaking or if it rains so hard the pool overflows and floods out the yard and the basement again! The combination to the safe is your birthday. And you know you can always call Tobin or Carl’s dad on the job if you have an emergency you can’t handle. And I stuck all of the other numbers you might need on the fridge with magnets, including Michonne’s cell phone number, her office extension, and the beach house address and its telephone number.”
“Okay, okay!” Just then Enid’s jeep’s horn could be heard beeping from outside. “Mom I’ve gotta go,” she exclaimed, pecking Carol’s cheek. “And don’t worry! I’ll take good care of Mimi and call or text you every day you’re away. Drive safe and text me when you get settled in. I should be home from the movies and dinner before midnight tonight because I’m working a few hours at the community pool early in the morning, in case you want to call me. Have fun and please flirt if you meet a nice guy and take lots of pictures… oh and I know your new book is gonna be totally awesome!”
“Thanks baby,” Carol sighed as she pulled her in for a big hug. She then watched as Sophia grabbed her duffle bag and the food Carol had packed up. “Oh and don’t forget to bring me a dolphin anklet if you find a cute one, a keychain for Enid, t-shirts for Otis and Patricia, fridge magnets for Ms. Jacqui and Aunt Annette, hats for Uncle Hershel and Mr. Grimes and some fudge and salt water taffy for Carl. Love ya!” she then exclaimed, as she flew out of the door.
“Love you too sweetheart,” Carol whispered as she heard the kitchen screen door slam closed behind her and she made a mental note to remember to bring back everything Sophia had requested. She knew deep down that she’d be totally fine while she was gone; her daughter was shrewd and smart as a whip as well as a survivor just like was but she wouldn’t be a good mother if she didn’t at least worry a little. And to be on the safe side, she’d already asked Tobin, her ex-husband who she was still on excellent terms with, to ring Sophia from time to time just to check in on her while she was out of town and he promised that he would. Tobin’s word was as good as gold, and it took a load off Carol’s mind knowing that he was just a phone call away. Even though they’d been divorced for the past two years and he’d recently remarried, his devotion to Sophia was unwavering and Carol would always love and respect him for his continuing kindness toward her baby girl. He never missed getting her gifts for her birthday or for the holidays, and he still took her out to the movies or to concerts when she was home from school and despite her college fund from her real dad’s side of the family, he regularly sent her money every semester to help out with books, her sorority dues and dorm fees or whatever else she wanted or needed. Tobin wasn’t Sophia’s biological dad, but he was ten times the father Ed Peletier, her real father, had ever been.