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Like the Saying Goes

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David pulled up beside Sleepy Peak Elementary in his beat up 1990’s Volkswagen and waved enthusiastically to his son, Max, who was coming out of the school with his two best friends. He could see Max roll his eyes at him from his seat in the car and smiled. He watched as Max said goodbye to Nikki and Neil and waited patiently as Max walked intentionally slowly to the car.

“How was your day, kiddo?” David asked as Max opened the door.

“Fine,” Max buckled himself into his seat. “I had a test in math today.”

“Oh! How’d you do?”

“I don’t fucking know, we haven’t got our grades back yet.” Max huffed, obviously annoyed. “Look, can we just go?”

“Language, Max.” Max rolled his eyes.

David shook his head and looked both ways before heading into the traffic.

“I’m just tired. I didn’t mean to snap at you or whatever.” Max drummed his fingers against the door and avoided eye contact.

They rolled to a stop at a red light.

“It’s fine, Max. Don’t worry, I’m taking you straight home!” David visibly brightened at Max’s attempted apology. Max grimaced inwardly for what must’ve been the hundredth time at how grossly happy his dad was all the time.

“Am I going to be alone? Or will The Steaming Ball of Trash be there?”

“Hey, be nice. Gwen is going out on the town with her boyfriend tonight.” David tapped his fingers against the steering wheel and pressed his foot on the gas as the light turned green.

“Oh, yeah? With which one? The anime pillow or her fanfiction notebook?” Max smirked.

David turned to Max and gave him a disappointed frown before going back to watching the road.

“Neither, Max. It’s the one she’s really hopeful about. She says he’s the one.” David smiled sanguinely for his best friend.

“She’s hopeful about them all.” Max gave a short sigh.

“Yeah. Well, we can hope, can’t we Max?” David glanced at the backseat.

“I guess. I just don’t understand.”

David hummed noncommittally as they pulled into the apartment driveway.

“So besides a math test, what was your day like?” David opened his door and waited for Max to get out before locking it behind them both.

“Nothing. I mean, Nerf lit stuff covered in hand sanitizer on fire. Including his own body parts.” Max shrugged his backpack onto his shoulder and they both began the walk to the entrance.

“What--How--Why?” David couldn’t seem to get past partial sentences and sounded deeply concerned.

“He said it was for his quote on quote ‘science project’ but I think he’s just a pyromaniac. I mean, why would he have to have done it in the middle of the math test?”

David opened the door and waved to the woman at the front desk, a woman who called herself Miss Priss.

“I’m still confused, why on earth would he set himself on fire in front of a teacher.”

“Oh, she wasn’t paying attention,” Max paused. “Even if she had been, nobody has really ever been able to...discipline Nerf.”

David sighed heavily and pressed the up button on the elevator.

“Maybe I should have a chat with your school.” Max could tell he was already checking his mental calendar for a day suitable for a parent-teacher conference.

“Oh, hell no!” Max’s eyes widened, “They would know I snitched! Have you ever heard the saying? I don’t want stitches, David! Nerf would most definitely give me stitches! He’d probably take a kidney for Christ’s sake!”

The elevator doors dinged and they stepped inside.

“Okay, okay! Breathe, Max. If you don’t want me to tell the school I won’t. Promise.” David said, as soothingly as a freaked out parent could be.

“You better not,” Max muttered, obviously put on edge at the thought of getting beaten up.

They waited patiently for their floor. The elevator was silent, and Max hesitated before reluctantly asking how David’s day went.

“It was great! I made a few good tips and everyone was so nice. Gosh, those tourists are really something coming up here just for the weekend! I told them if they needed a tour guide I would love to help them out if I could.” David lied through a tight smile.

“Uh huh.” Max nodded, unconvinced. He had three jobs, and the P.I one was obviously going nowhere, seeing as how he never mentioned it anymore.

“And, Mr. Campbell told me I did a great job today! He asked me if I wanted to pick up a few more shifts! He’s just so considerate, I wonder how he knew I needed them.” David’s eyes seemed a little misty at the thought of his boss, and Max wondered how deep of a hole he had dug for himself. He would never admit it, but he was worried about his dad.

“Sure.” Max frowned slightly, but didn’t say anything else.

And with that, the bell dinged on the thirteenth floor and the doors opened.

 

“Are you going to have time for more shifts at Campbell’s Cafe with all your other jobs?” Max asked, walking ahead of David to hide the worried expression on his face.

Max snickered as they passed room number 69 and thought about making a twink joke at David, but decided against it. After all, they were having a civilized conversation here.

At the door of apartment 72, David pulled out his key ring and fumbled for a bit with the keys before he found the right one and unlocked the door.

As soon as the door opened, Max slipped inside and breathed in deeply. Oh, he was glad to be home and not at the hell-hole most kids call after-school clubs. He’d only joined because Neil didn’t want to go to the Science Olympiads alone, and Nikki had already joined a different club. It didn’t surprise anyone that she’d rather join the after-school P.E thingy. Nobody could ever remember what that useless coach called it.

David shut the door quietly and kicked off his shoes. He was so tired, and he’d been on his feet all day making complicates frappuccinos at Campbell’s Café, and he still had to work the graveyard in an ugly yellow taxi. He flopped down rather dramatically on the couch and buried his head in the cushions.

Max hung up his coat and threw his backpack to the ground. He walked the short distance to the kitchen and forced himself to ignore the Leaning Tower of Unpaid Bills on the table. He felt a stab of anger and wished his dad would stop overworking himself. A barista, a taxi driver, a practically out-of-business P.I. He had to stop. The fridge was nearly bare besides a container of orange juice and a bag of chips. Who put chips in the fridge anyway? Gwen, probably.

Max shrugged and pulled the chips out. He shoved a few chips in his mouth before pouring them into a bowl and making his way into the living room where his father was sprawled out on the ratty old sofa like a corpse.

He sat down on the floor beside the couch criss-cross applesauce style like a kindergartener and started poking David’s arm.

“Dad.” Poke.

“Dad.” Poke.

No reply. David was either ignoring him or asleep, and accounting for the fact that David was a literal ball of sunshine, who wouldn’t ignore anyone on purpose, he assumed it was the latter.

“DAD. Wake up. I have chips.” Another poke, just for good measure.

“Mpfh.” David lifted his head off of the old cushions, blinking slowly as he registered the food in front of him. “Chips?”

“Yeah, Gwen put them in the fridge so they’re a little cold. But it’s sour cream and onion? That’s a plus. Right?” He put on a small smile, and attempted to achieve a fraction of David’s unfaltering optimism.

David beamed. “Yeah, that’s a plus.” He sat up and made room for Max on the sofa.

Max lifted himself onto the couch and held out the slightly cold chips like an offering to a wild animal. David leaned forward and took a handful.

“Hey! That was like half of the chips!” Max grumbled.

David smiled sheepishly but didn’t put the chips back, instead he proceeded to inhale them like a man at his last meal.

Max looked on in horror. He could hardly recognize his own dad.

“Did you eat anything today?”

“Yeah, of course, Max. I had some coffee, and hmm. Oh right, Gwen stopped by and we shared a pastry!”

“Take the damn chips! A fucking pastry and coffee is what people have on their work breaks!” Max shouted, exasperated, and thrust the bowl of chips into David’s hands forcefully.

David looked bemused and slightly disoriented.

“Thanks, Max. I’ll eat these and then make you some dinner. There’s pasta in the cupboard, I think. Do your homework, okay?”

Max shook his head in frustration. “Just...eat better tomorrow, okay?”

David paused for a second. “I’ll try, Max. I promise.”

Then David stood up, ruffled Max’s hair, and walked to the kitchen to begin making dinner.

Chapter Text

After serving Max dinner and making him swear not to open the door for any strangers, David left to begin his shift.

He sat in his standard issue yellow taxi cab as he drove around the city, waiting for a call to come in.

It was an average night, he’d seen two drug deals, one arrest, and a few of his riders had been a tad bit off their rockers. One particularly memorable experience had involved an odd old man with a hook for a hand.

At first, he had thought the hand was some sort of “souvenir” from war and that the old man must’ve been a veteran. He had asked politely why he had a hook for a hand but had only received a continuous string of unintelligible muttering, sprinkled with curse-words and the occasional mentioning of a crazy sister.

Now he was alone in the silence of his car. With only the faces of the presidents on the meager one dollar tips keeping him company.

“Don’t worry Mr. Washington! I’m sure tonight will go by quickly.” David nodded to himself and adjusted the rearview mirror.

He turned on the radio and jammed out to one of his favorite Beyoncé songs.

“Yes, girl! You get that Halo! All women are queens and deserve to be respected as such!”

At the red light he rested his head against the steering wheel and closed his eyes for a brief second, sleep was right there, and he was exhausted, but he wasn’t going to fall asleep. He needed this job. He pulled himself up and off the wheel, and set off again.

Suddenly the radio crackled and the customer’s voice filled the car.

David scrambled to turn the music down and listened to where and when the man needed to be picked up. He recognized the location as one of the seediest bars in town.

David made a few rights and a left and pulled up in front of the bar.

Several people stood outside, socializing in groups, as far away from the streetlights as possible. There were a few college students outside as well, trying and failing to light a cigarette in the darkness. At least, he hoped it was a cigarette, and not something more...illegal.

He silently prayed someone else had called him and not one of the men who was eyeing his car like a challenge on wheels.

David noticed a lone man underneath a streetlight. He looked haggard and unkempt, and his sweater seemed as if it had never been washed. While all the other patrons stood in the darkness, he watched the street in plain sight, and as soon as the car rolled to a stop, he sauntered up to the car.

The man opened the door and slid into the car.

“Hello, sir! Where can I take you this fine evening.” This evening is not fine he thought with a tight swallow. He needed to get home. Something about this man didn’t seem...right.

The man looked taken aback by David’s pep before he answered. “Drive me around the block a few times.”

“Err… Excuse me?” David asked, his usual sparkle replaced with confusion.

“Take me around the block. I want to talk to you. This was the only way to meet up.”

David started driving. His internal monologue, which was usually pretty chipper, had now spiraled into a constant stream of anxiety. It went something like this: Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuckety fuck fuck. AHHHHHHHH! I’m going to die. This man is going to kill me. FUCK. What’ll happen to Max??? I can’t die! I need to be there for Max!

“The names dirty Kevin. Nice to meet ‘cha.”

Oh, god, David thought. I’m going to be killed by a man named Dirty Kevin.

“Well, nice to meet you, too, Kevin- I mean, Dirty Kevin.” David tensed up and waited for this man to snap at him. His tiny brittle bones could only survive one punch, at most. I should’ve drunk more milk. Curse my calcium deficiency!

“Kevin’s fine. If you prefer. But we didn’t come here to talk about me, we came to talk about you.”

“Actually, I came here to do my job and pick you up.” Oh, fuck. I should not have said that. Wow, I’m cursing a lot. I’m going to need to get change to put in the swear jar. Wait! Not what I need to focus on right now. David thought rapidly.

Kevin chuckled. “Good to know you’ve got some spunk in you.”

David laughed nervously. “So what did you come here to talk about?”

“Well, I didn’t think you’d want to get to the point so quickly. Thought maybe we could have a bit of small talk. Make some conversation?”

“Oh, um well-” David spluttered. He was as helpless as a fish in a frying pan.

“Relax, kid. I’m just pulling your leg. I came here to offer you a job. Dirty Kevin’s got some morals.”

“A job? I’m not looking to sell drugs or anything like that.”

“Drugs? Who said anything about drugs? I’m here to talk to you about being a private investigator for my boss.”

“As a P.I.?” David kept driving, though with his mind so deep in thought he felt like he was going slower than normal.

“Yeah. I can’t get you the job, but I can get you an interview. You’ll like my boss, but you’ll like the offer she gives you more.”

“Erm-I’m gay. I don’t want any ‘offers’ she might have.” Curses. It was times like these he remembered that he didn’t really have a flawless filter.

“Gross, I didn’t mean it like that, you kinky fuck. Get your mind out of the gutter! I meant that there’s a lot of money in it for you. Jeez.” Kevin looked startled and vaguely uncomfortable.

“Oh, sorry. It’s just really late and I am sort of scared-” David began to ramble.

“I’m gonna cut you off right there. Pull over.”

David looked out the window, they were in front of the bar again, the neon green sign with the four leaf clover lit the street, the cursive letters of Murphy’s illuminated the sidewalk in a sickeningly bright hue. He could smell pot on the air and longed to be at home.

“You’ll see her tomorrow. She’ll be in the park. On the bench by the picnic area. Ten AM. Don’t be late.”

Kevin opened the door, he had one foot out the door before he stopped, and turned back to David.

“Here. Compliments of my boss.” Kevin threw a bundle of something at him. David caught it. “Get something nice for your kid, alright?”

Kevin got out of the car and walked away. David watched silently and trembling before he looked down at the bundle. In his hands, he cradled a wad of 20s.

“What do I do now?” It was the last moment he was fully coherent that night, and the question rang in his ears.

Chapter Text

Gwen knew something was wrong.

For starters David’s usual smile seemed faker and less annoyingly bright.

He was drinking coffee, without milk or even sugar, and he hadn’t noticed the difference yet.

And last, of all, he wasn’t paying attention to her!

Call her conceited, but Gwen liked to have an active member of her conversation to agree with her when she was right and to say things like “oh no she didn’t” and other cliché additions David often had to offer.

David took another sip of his coffee, he stared off into the distance, well as distant as the kitchen wall was.

“David.” Gwen said.

“David.” She repeated. Wall. His attention was going towards PLASTER! THAT BITCH WOULD NOT STEAL HER SOURCE OF CAFÉ GOSSIP!!!

“DAVID. Are you listening to me?” David startled and looked over.

“Yes, Gwen? Were you saying something.” He asked innocently.

“Yes, I was saying something, David! I’ve been trying to talk to you for half an hour!”

Max strolled into the kitchen and took David’s coffee from his hands. “Don’t even try, Gwen. He’s been like this all morning, and last night.” Max took a gulp and sighed. Delicious, delicious caffeine.

“What’s up with him today? He’s been staring at that wall all morning.”

Max shrugged and took another swig of David’s coffee.

“Guys, I’m right here.” David frowned.

“Oh, now you grace us with your presence! Thanks, David, it’s not like I’ve been trying to talk to you! No, definitely not.” Gwen huffed, before jumping angrily out of her chair.

“I’m sorry, Gwen. I didn’t mean to ignore you. I was just thinking.”

“Whatever, it doesn’t matter. What’s up with you? You’ve been acting so strange.”

“Nothing, I’m fine.” It was then that David looked at the clock, and with a start, he realised that Max’s school day started in less than thirty minutes. “Max! Why didn’t you tell me it was so late!”

“I did David! You said ‘that’s nice’ and kept staring at the wall.” Max tapped his foot on the floor and fiddled with his backpack straps.

David burst into a flurry of movement, he pulled on his shoes, a coat and bid goodbye to Gwen before he ran out the door, Max following close behind.

David? Forgetting something related to Max?

Definitely suspicious. She’d have to investigate later.

I’ll visit him later, while he’s at work. Yes, that would do.

***

As they drove down the street, Max wondered how best to ask David what the fuck was going on. He wasn’t likely to get a straight answer either, judging by what happened with Gwen. But he knew he had to try, at least.

“Why are you being so weird today?” Not as smooth as he’d hoped, but eh, you win some, you lose some.

David didn’t look at him. “I’m not being weird.”

“Yeah, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yeah, you- look this could go on forever, or you could just answer my damn question.”

“Fine. I’m just thinking, alright?”

Max was taken aback. This was in the Top Five Most Mean David Moments, and it was heading for the Top Three.

“Thinking about what?”

David sighed. He seemed to be having an internal debate with himself.

“Someone offered me a job.” He seemed uncertain.

“Another one? How are you going to deal with four jobs?” Max hoped David wasn’t going to take on this one. David was going to work himself to death. He needed David to be around sometimes, no matter how much he hated to admit it.

“This one kinda falls under my P.I. job. So, it wouldn’t really be another job, if you think about it.”

Max knew how much David loved helping people, and he hadn’t really been cut out for the police force, so David had “trained” to be a Private Investigator. But these days, people actually trusted the police, and there wasn’t much business for a P.I.

“Is it safe?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll find out, I’m meeting with my potential boss today after I drop you off at the school.”

“Well, good luck. I guess. Be safe.” Max was starting to freak out. David was taking a huge risk with this job.

They pulled up alongside a few other cars, children already filing towards the open doors.

Max opened up the car door and hesitated for a second before turning around and giving David a bone-crushing hug.

“I’ll see you later.” And then he was gone, sprinting out the door and towards the school with a reckless abandon that few seemed to possess.

David sat for a while, waiting for the traffic to die down. He checked the clock on his car console.

8:00. That meant he had two hours to get to the park and meet up with his new boss.

David started the car and checked the street before he left for the park, had he been thinking a little clearer, he might have noticed the tall blonde man watching him in the background. But he wasn’t, so he didn’t.

Chapter Text

Gwen typed furiously at her keyboard. As one of the top journalists in the county, Gwen definitely knew how to spin a story.

She didn’t allow her personal life to affect her work, so she left the concerning conversation she’d had with David at the start of the day fall behind her as she worked.

As soon as her lunch break began, she’d go and see him, but she had to wait till 12:30, but until then she needed to work on this article for the newspaper.

Sadly journalism skills didn’t pay bills. And even though she loved her job, she still missed the careless days of her youth. If only she’d gotten a degree in business rather than liberal arts. She was studying psychology now, but the student loans were piling up and she needed a job to keep herself afloat.

Gwen didn’t work nearly as many jobs as David did. Sometimes she felt a little guilty, but whenever she brought up a second job for herself, David told her he had it covered. She didn’t buy that for a second, so she worked her way up the corporate ladder in the news industry.

She checked her watch for the fourth time that minute. She had an interview in half an hour and she needed to do a little research before then.

Sleepy Peak News had requested an interview from a nearby fashion designer, and Gwen had volunteered to do it.

There was still enough time to browse the designer's website and see their work. Gwen opened a new tab and typed into the search engine.

Sure enough, the website was there, Fashionista. Generic, but whatever. Gwen clicked on the link to the newest line of clothing. It was nothing special, nothing Gwen ever wore at least, but hey, who was she to judge other people on their tastes. Unless it was related to pineapple on pizza. She had very strong views on that.

The hands on her watch clicked steadily onward, signaling the progression of time. Gwen bounced her leg up and down.

What was up with David?

Up and down went her leg, faster and faster as theories and questions rose up like a swarm of locusts buzzing in her ears. She stared, unseeing, at her computer screen.

As a reporter, the star reporter of the Sleepy Peak Chronicle if you don’t mind, she was used to finding dead ends in the stories she was investigating, so this feeling was all too familiar.

It began as an itch in her palms and an ache in her feet. Her body wanted to move. It wanted to get up and go. The trouble was where? Where did she need to go?

It doesn’t matter! Screamed her body. Just go!

Go where? Gwen screamed back. (Internally, of course, she didn’t want to look like any more of a crazy person than she already did.) I can’t go anywhere until you give me a direction.

An abrupt noise startled her out of her tapping and thinking, she picked up her phone. It was an alarm, 10:50. The interview started in ten minutes.

Gwen stared blankly. Then realization dawned in her eyes. Shit! I’m late.

She stood so fast it knocked over her chair. It clattered loudly in the quiet of the office. Heads swiveled in her direction, and her boss gave her a sharp look from underneath his ball cap.

Smiling apologetically and shrugging her shoulders, Gwen snatched her purse off of the desk and walked briskly out of the door, avoiding eye contact as she went. She had an interview to go to.

 

David sat on the splinter-covered wooden bench near the picnic tables. He breathed deeply, inhaling the sweet, sharp scent of a fresh autumn breeze. Being outside had always calmed his nerves. Since he was stuck inside all day, every day, excluding most national holidays and the occasional sick day, David often missed being outside.

One day I’ll take Max out camping. He thought to himself.

David squirmed, splinters were poking him in uncomfortable places and he was starting to sweat, nervously waiting for his potential boss.

At that moment a woman who looked remarkably like an attractive Pepto Bismol bottle strolled down the gravel path. She sat down with perfect posture that somehow made David feel slightly inferior, and crossed her legs before leaning elegantly against the straight wooden back of the prickly bench.

She was blonde with blue eyes that reminded him of cotton candy, if cotton candy could be bleached, and never moved. There was a detached, blank expression on her face, but the hint of a smile pulled almost imperceptibly at her mouth.

David stared at her. He blinked a few times, his eyes watering in her behalf. Was this his potential employer? He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off.

“I hope Kevin didn’t frighten you too much. He can come off a bit strong sometimes.”

“Uh...oh, nothing I couldn’t handle.” He tried to smile and hoped it didn’t look like he was drinking the juice of an unripe lemon.

“Look, I’ve never been one for small talk, and frankly I’ve got somewhere to be in…” she checked the rose gold watch on her wrist “...thirty minutes, so I’ll cut to the chase.” Her eyes narrowed at the edges, sharpening until her corneas looked like the end of a sewing pin, and she smiled, wider than it seemed possible, literally ear-to-ear.

David gulped.

“You’re a private investigator, yeah?”

David nodded, his mouth sandpaper dry. He didn’t like the look of this woman.

“My name is Jennifer, call me Jen if you like, and I need you to do some...investigating for me.”

“What...sort of investigating?”

Jen’s eyes lost their cotton candy innocence altogether and turned icy. Her voice was equally terrifying, both aloof and cold.

“I need you to find someone for me.”

Chapter Text

David drove home in a thick, tangible silence. The only sound that could penetrate it was the engine and the familiar sound of wheels on asphalt.

He took backroads to prolong his time in the car, he needed it to think, and god forbid someone else got into his car with a job.

David glanced at the passenger seat. A large manila envelope sat on it. It was such an innocent-looking envelope, he thought sadly. Sunshine yellow…he didn’t think he could ever look at envelopes the same way.

The envelope contained nothing innocent, as far as David was concerned.

He had yet to open it, as Jen was insistent that he read it somewhere private. Anyone could be watching. That was the one thing that Jen warned him about, glancing around almost imperceptibly at regular intervals, like clockwork. Now that he had taken the job, there would always be someone on his tail, whether he noticed or not.

He rolled to a stop at the intersection. David felt a strong urge to bang his head against the steering wheel, but concussions solve no problems as some people say.

Some. Not many, but some.

He checked the time on the dashboard. He had half an hour before he had to return to the café.

David leaned his head against the headrest of the old, beat up seat and blew out a long breath.

Sometimes, during the middle of the night, or the rush hour when everyone decided to visit the cafe, David accidentally let himself remember how much he loathed his job.

Upon noticing the light had turned green, David pushed gently on the gas, and the car moved again.

The problem with working at a café wasn’t the people, or the cleaning. It wasn’t even the complex drinks that some people insist on ordering. For David, the worst part is the mundanity.

The way time slowly crawls on.

The gaps between customers where there is nothing to do.

The minding numbing boredom that sets in once the morning rush is over.

David was never meant for office jobs, or anything really “white collar” at all.

David needed to do things.

He wanted to go and teach kids at the summer camps he used to attend himself. He wanted to run around and ask questions about cases. David didn’t want to make the stupidly complicated drinks anymore, he wanted to order them. He wanted to be good...or helpful… or productive for goodness sakes!!

Which is why, he thought, maybe that’s why I took the job?

There was also the fact that Jen was threatening the life of his child and best friend, of course. That was an obvious factor in the equation.

Jen had made herself clear, she didn’t tolerate failure, and now that she had brought David into her circle, he was to stay there until he completed his job. Or made a mistake. But then he wouldn’t be in any circles.

It was nearly time for his shift to start, so he might as well head on his way.

***

Gwen sat nervously, sipping her coffee.

Her eyes felt like they were being burned out of her skull, there was just SO much pink in the ensemble the designer was wearing.

Truth be told, it was a little intimidating how well she wore a shade most often attributed to stomach medicine and baby showers.

“So...Wendolyn~” The designer began.

“It’s Gwen.” Gwen raised an eyebrow.

“Of course, love.” She flashed a perfect white smile. It was a smile that made you want to lean in close to see it better, but also back away into a corner and call your dentist.

“How long have you been in the fashion industry?” Gwen asked, clipboard in hand.

The designer-what was her name again?-giggled. “I’m pretty new at it, to be honest.”

“Who would you say inspired you most to pursue fashion, especially in Sleepy Peak?”

“Sleepy Peak’s my home. I’ve lived here before we got the first mall. Of course, I don’t remember life without the mall since I was four, but the analogy still stands.”

This tidbit of information had Gwen figuratively pricking up her ears. She anxiously rapped her pencil against her clipboard.

“So, would you say you’re somewhat of an old-timer around here?”

“Heavens no, love! I’m no older than you. I just haven’t left Sleepy Peak for anything more than a vacation.” The woman rested her chin in her hand primly.

“Hmm, so would you say it’s been challenging to market fashion to clients who usually wear nothing but flannels and lumberjack chic?”

She laughed. “Yes, but it’s been rather fun. I’ve really enjoyed it.” She paused, and looked at Gwen directly, “Have you seen my designs?”

“Yeah, I saw the website you have...good variety there.” Gwen smiled, fakely, but she hoped for the best.

“My work doesn’t always suit everyone’s tastes.” She smiled understandingly.

This interview felt an awful lot like a game of cat and mouse. With every question Gwen asked, she got half an answer back. She wasn’t used to feeling like this, and she was sure she didn’t like it. She was off-balance, teetering too close to the edge.

The woman’s eyes flicked to the old clock on the wall, took a long sip of her tea, and stood up moving languidly.

“I’m afraid I have to be going, fashion calls.” She smiled and held out a thin delicate hand.

Gwen stood, not nearly as gracefully as the other woman had, and shook the designer's hand firmly.

“Thanks for coming. The article will be in the next issue.” Gwen tried to make her grimace look like a smile.

“I look forward to reading it, I do so enjoy the Sleepy Peak news.”

“Well, I guess I’ll see you around.”

The woman’s face lit up. “Hold on, before you go, here’s my card.” She slipped her hand into her small, lacy purse and rummaged around for a second before producing a rose-colored slip of paper. “Aha! There it is.” She handed it over to Gwen. “If you would ever like a makeover, come see me.”

She flashed the perfect white smile and walked away, stiletto heels clicking against the tile floor.

Gwen watched her go for a moment and then redirected her attention to the paper in her hand. She flipped the paper over, it was a business card, just as elegant and crisp as the woman whose name was on it.

She rubbed her thumb over the name, it was a good thing she got the card, she would've had to do a lot of research to get it.

Gwen snatched her purse off the floor and tucked the card into a pocket. She had to go check in on David.

The mysterious Jennifer Monari would just have to wait.