Devices. Jolie’s got tons of them. Coping mechanisms that ensure she’s not falling victim to the mental illness that’s taken hold of both her brother and father. Helping the homeless gives Jolie much needed consistency. But when a stranger struts into her Jersey Shore creperie, writing cryptic songs on napkins and then disappearing, her world becomes anything but routine.
Reed can play the soul out of his saxophone, but he’s hiding something. Why else would he reveal so little about himself, or plan one secluded, albeit eccentric, date after another? And what’s in that backpack he carries everywhere? Then again, with her distressed brother missing, an estranged mother returning home, and a feisty grandmother acting weirder than usual, Jolie can’t decipher whether her suspicions are valid or dangerous delusions.
When inexplicable slashings of the homeless occur in her otherwise safe town, Jolie’s devices begin to fail.
Reed’s bag sat on the floor next to me. I wasn’t in the habit of snooping. I’d never wanted to pry into the life of a guy I was dating before. Then again, I’d always gone in with my eyes open and my information gathered.
And no one else had been so intentionally evasive.
I scooted a few inches on the couch toward the bag. It was zipped shut so I couldn’t even sneak a peek. I’d have to very intentionally open it. I leaned over, a centimeter at a time, as if someone was recording me and I was trying to be sly. In my own home. How silly. My hand fell to my side, closer to the bag. My nail scratched at the couch, creeping its way toward the zipper. My stomach knotted into itself and my palms got clammy. I wiped one against the couch. This was very unlike me. Besides, I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for or if I wanted to know the answer.
Before my hand could make its descent from the couch to the backpack, the bathroom door opened. My hand flew into my hair and I sat up straight. Rigid even.
“Forgot my stuff.” Reed strutted toward me, in all his shirtless glory, with his shorts undone and hanging. He leaned over, scooped the backpack, and withdrew to the bathroom. He didn’t notice the plank of wood rammed down my back or the word guilty scribbled across my forehead.
I should have been disappointed. My snooping opportunity had passed. Instead, a cool ocean breeze seemed to blow through the room. I guess I didn’t want to know as much as I thought.
K.K. Weil grew up in Queens, but eventually moved to New York City, the inspiration for many of her stories. Weil, who attended SUNY Albany as an undergrad and NYU as a graduate student, is also a teacher. She enjoys writing her own dramas and lives near the beach in New Jersey, where she is at work on her next novel.