Read the original Success Story post on Miss Snark's First Victim.
For more on Jeanne Ryan:
A loud thud echoed into the galley as I walked into the doorjamb, followed by and equally loud whistle from Tiki. "Hottie!" she squawked. "Hottie, Lexi, hottie."
"Shut up," I snarled at Tiki, who was doing a rather enthusiastic dance on my shoulder. I rubbed my forehead. Yeah I had to agree with her, but this was neither the time nor the place to announce it. There I was, standing in a ratty t-shirt and frumpy shorts wearing the last thing I wanted to be caught dead in, looking like an idiot for walking into a solid metal beam.
Nicco's and Dag's eyes were locked onto us in an instant. Dag's mouth curled into a grin and he raised a brow. "Toot – toot."
Tiki ruffled her feathers and stretched her neck out, screeching at the top of her birdie-lungs, "bad girls, talking bout bad girls…" She wolf whistled and bounced up and down. "Beep – beep."
"Shut up, Tiki."
There was no stopping her. She was on a roll and I knew for certain, Nicco would never let me live this down. Worse yet, Dag looked amused. Way too amused.
"Hottie! Toot – toot, beep – beep."
"Zip it, Red." I lowered my voice and warned Tiki. "I'll stuff you like a banquet bird and serve your giblets in gravy."
"What a remarkable bird." Dag rose to his feet and my breath caught in my throat. Oh boy.
Feet glued to the floor and a brain that ceased to function about a beep-beep ago, I knew I was in trouble. Tiki had understated the hottie part a bit. He stole the breath from my lungs and my heart all at once. Oh yeah, what hot-blooded female wouldn't go into meltdown at the sight of him? Tiki certainly had.
[Sabrina, 14, has just been told to set the table for three by her father on her first visit with him since the divorce. The doorbell rang before Sabrina could ask who was joining them and she speculates it must be a relative]
The door opened. Steam obscured Dad’s face as he carried in a rectangular platter heaped with sticky rice and spiced vegetables. Behind him came a petite, brunette girl in jeans and a black silk blouse that hugged her assets.
It sure as hell wasn’t Aunt Nicole.
My hands knotted under the table. This was a joke, right? I bet she still had to show ID when she went to the liquor store. This had to be something other than what I thought it was. It had to be!
“Sabrina, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is Suzanne.”
My heart turned to stone. A friend. A girl. It didn’t take a genius.
"It’s great to finally meet you, Sabrina,” Suzanne said as dad held a chair out for her. “Mark’s told me so much about you.”
I sat there, frozen—the great Snow Girl. My first night with Dad and I get this thrown at me?
“How do you know Dad?” I asked at last.
Suzanne’s gaze flicked to Dad, who answered for her.
“At work.” He began dishing out rice.
Oh my God. What kind of happy crap was this? I schooled my face, keeping my white hot anger hidden inside. I was ice…ice with a molten core.
“Oh, an intern.” I smiled sweetly. “Work experience for college, I guess?”
Dad coughed, his voice carefully controlled. He shot me a warning look. “No, she isn’t a student. Suzanne is part of the firm’s administration staff.”
I wanted to laugh. Dad springs his new girlfriend on me and he expects me to play nice?
“Administration.” I held my plate up for Dad to fill. “So now that Mom and I have moved out, you’re starting to bring work home with you, Dad?”
Dad’s hand clenched and his silver serving tongs lost their load of vegetables onto the tablecloth. “Sabrina!”
Suzanne shifted in her seat, not knowing where to look. A part of me felt sorry for her, so the larger, angrier part of me stomped on the weak pang like it was a skittering cockroach.
I glared up at Dad. “Does she know that Mom and I left two weeks ago? TWO weeks.”
Dad’s eyelid began to twitch. “Now listen here, young lady—”
“Young lady?” I repeated, cutting him off. Then I leaned toward Suzanne and whispered, “I think he means you.”
The doorbell rang.
Jemmi, I love you. Seriously, your timing couldn’t be better. I stood up.
“I’ll get it. I wouldn’t want you to have to neglect your special company.”
I ran from the room before Dad could say anything. Angry tears blurred in my eyes. I yanked the door open and threw my arms around Jemmi.
[the emotions here are shock anger and betrayal]
George knocked and after a few moments, a small slot about midway up the door opened, and a pair of large, blue eyes peered out above George’s head.
“Yes? Who is it?” asked a muffled voice.
“My name is George.”
“Are you invisible? Some sort of magician?” asked the voice.
“No, I’m just down here.”
“Here!” George said. He reached up and waved his hands in front of the slot. The voice shrieked and the slot closed. “Hello?” George asked. The slot opened again.
“Who is it? If you’re just a pair of hands with no body, I’m not going to speak to you. Such creatures are scary.”
George sighed. “I’m not just a pair of hands. I’m a boy, but I’m too short to see through the door. If you open it, you’ll see—”
“I told you, I don’t open the door for invisible men with floating hands. What’s your business here at the Ram’s Head today?”
“I just wanted some information about—”
George was interrupted by a second voice. “Ask the password!” the voice said.
“Good idea!” the owner of the blue eyes said. “What’s the password?”
“Password?” George asked.
“Well, he knows that the password is ‘password.’ I suppose we should let him in.” The slot closed again and a great amount of clicking, turning, and grunting sounded behind the door. Finally, it opened a crack to reveal a large man in a white chef’s coat with tousled blonde hair and a wild look to his blue eyes.
“Why, you’re just a child,” the man said.
“What’s going on? Why was the door locked?”
“A super-secret meeting, of course. Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“No, I was just looking to get some information.”
“Excuse me, one moment, please.” The door shut again and George heard the man say, “He says he’s not here about the super-secret meeting, but he knew the password. Maybe he’s a spy?” Then the blonde-haired man reappeared. “Are you a spy?” he asked.
“A spy? No, I was just looking for information. I thought maybe someone here--”
“Excuse me, please,” the man said to George and closed the door again and spoke to whomever else was in there with him. “He says he’s not a spy and that he just wants information.”
“Spies gather information, you fool!” said the other voice.
“You’re right,” said the man. The door opened again. “I’m sorry, no spies are allowed in today, on account of the super-secret meeting.”
“Don’t tell him about the meeting!” the other voice said.
“I’m sorry, I was mistaken. There is no meeting today and, if there was, it wouldn’t be super secret. In fact, everyone would be invited, even spies! Come back another day. Perhaps on a Wednesday; I think that’s when the spies usually meet. Goodbye!”
“I’m not a spy!” George said, but it was too late. The man had already slammed the door.
“Ladies and gentlemen! I would like to direct your attention to Kendrick Royce, CEO of Flawless Cosmetics.”
The motorized sound of the velvet curtains being drawn back echoed through the room. Rose’s heart skipped a beat.
“Good evening!” said Dad. “Twenty-seven years ago, my lovely wife, Candace, became Flawless Cosmetic’s Queen, and she’s been marvelous! The best yet, in fact."
The crowd applauded.
"I couldn’t believe my luck when she agreed to marry me. But, now, I’m luckier still. Because sixteen years ago today, we were blessed with a beautiful little girl.”
Rose couldn’t breathe. The stupid corset was too tight.
“Rose brought joy and contentment to our hearts as we watched her grow.”
Her heart pounded in her chest. The spots were taking over her vision again.
“And now, she’s a young woman, ready to take on tradition and the world. I give you the new Queen of Flawless Cosmetics, Rose Connolly!”
The crowd cheered.
Rose stared at the door. She was supposed to walk through it and smile graciously as her father placed the crown on her head. She had to go. So why wouldn’t her feet move? Her hands trembled. Her skin itched. The crowd cheered on, deafening her, and somehow stealing all the oxygen in the room. Her chest heaved, but her lungs still seemed empty. She wanted to scream.
Rose stumbled backward, her hand bumping a doorknob. Another door! She had to get outside, away from the oxygen stealing monsters. She flung the door open and ran down a dark hall. A neon “exit” sign buzzed at the other end. She burst through that door and leaped down the stairs. Endless stairs. Turn after turn after turn. She was dizzy. She couldn’t breathe. She reached for the wall, then kept going. Would these stairs ever end? Yes, there. Rose pushed open the door and stumbled into the icy air.
The wind whipped through her dress, and the freezing air stabbed at her throat. She gagged, the wind stealing her breath away, then shivered and hugged her lace-covered shoulders. The bitter cold had chased away the dizziness, and her mind was clear. Crystal clear.
Rose had just run away from her crowning.
Her heart pounded, and a new wave of dizziness washed over her. What was wrong with her? She should be on the platform, accepting the Flawless crown from her father. Instead, she was in a dark, deserted street, in December, with no coat, no money, no phone, nothing. How was she going to get back upstairs?
Mrs. Dodger, the house matron of the boys’ dormitory, has gone missing, and Kate and her 2 friends decide to search for clues in the attic where they knew she’d recently been sneaking around. Realizing that they will need a source of light, Kate’s friends ask her to wait for them while they get some flashlights.
Without a word of explanation, the boys made their way back downstairs while Kate waited nervously by the attic door. She had begun to feel uneasy, like someone was peering at her from a dark corner. It took a lot of willpower for Kate to stay where she was until Devin and Rufus came lumbering toward her a few minutes later, flashlights in hand.
“I keep flashlights hidden in the library for unplanned emergencies,” Devin said, looking pleased with himself. “It’s a good thing I changed the batteries at the beginning of the summer.”
Kate noticed that the boys hadn’t bothered to bring a flashlight for her, but she smiled her thanks and allowed Devin to lead the way up the attic stairway. The stale heat of the upper floor was already thick in Kate’s nostrils as she climbed. It smelled of ancient dust and forgotten things, and gave Kate a weird, out-of-time feeling. She hoped their search would be over quickly.
“Creepy,” Devin said as they reached the top. “It’s like no one’s been up here for centuries.”
“Except for these,” Rufus said, shining his flashlight on a well-worn footpath in the dust on the floor. “Looks like Mrs. Dodger has been a regular visitor.”
“Let’s follow them,” Kate said, trying to sound braver than she felt. Thoughts of Mrs. Dodger lying face down on the floor were starting to crowd more rational thoughts from her mind.
The swath of tracks led through a maze of canvas-draped objects and stacks of dusty boxes. In less than two minutes, Kate and the boys had followed them to their end, which appeared to be an ancient, tattered quilt hanging on the wall by several long, slightly bent nails.
“Right,” Kate said, attempting to rub the dust out of her nose with the back of her hand. “Someone walked back here to the wall and just stopped.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Rufus said, “unless there’s something interesting in this pile here.” He gestured toward what looked like an old writing desk piled with long-forgotten ledgers and notebooks.
“That stuff hasn’t been touched in years,” Devin said. “There’s got to be something behind this blanket.”
Devin lifted the corner of the blanket, peered behind it, and then pulled the blanket back as far as it would go. There in the wall was a narrow door, slightly ajar, a skeleton key hanging limply from its keyhole.
A noise, the sound of shuffling near her, caused her to grab tightly to her boots under her pillow. They were hers, she wasn't giving them up. They'd have to kill her first. The footsteps drew closer, and the end of her mattress sank down, making the springs squeak.
"Leave me alone."
A scratchy wool blanket fell onto her. Its warmth, almost instantaneous. "I'm a friend."
The voice was deep, soft, barely a whisper, and male. Zoë clutched the blanket in her fists and drew her legs up tighter. "Go away."
"It's cold in here." The man moved closer now sitting by her hips.
"Yes, now leave." Now that she had the blanket, she feared its loss. "Please."
"You can't back down. Every time you do, they gain more ground."
Zoë, listened to his breath in the dark, unable to see him, but she could feel the heat of his body against her hip.
"We could keep each other warm." His hand reached out and stroked down her thigh through the blanket.
"No." She'd heard the sounds of mating at night, females who gave their bodies for favors. She was not one of them, nor did she intend to become one.
"We can just hold one another, share the heat. Please. I'm cold. You have my only blanket."
Zoë clutched it tighter. Could she take his blanket and leave him in the cold? She sighed and scooted over. "Okay. Share heat. No sex."
"No sex." He whispered and slid down on to the cot next to her, climbing under the covers. "My name is Malachi." He curled up behind her, cupping his body to hers.
"Zoë." She closed her eyes and savored the warmth. It was nice. She'd been so long without human contact. A hug, a touch. It almost felt foreign to her.
"What's that on your back?" His hand slid under her shirt and stroked up her spine.