Mistletoe and Murder, a Presley Thurman Mystery: First Chapter Friday
“When are you going to get down here?” my mother asked as soon as I answered the phone. I knew I should have sent her to voicemail and called her back later.
“Hello to you too, Mother,” I said, forcing myself to sound upbeat as I sat down on my living room chair.
“Presley, there are a lot of people I’m trying to coordinate for Christmas Eve dinner. You know how important it is to me. You’re not making it easy.”
I sighed. I wasn’t making it easy? She was the one who was adamant everyone arrive no later than six, and we couldn’t eat unless everyone was present. I had tried talking her into doing an appetizer buffet-type thing so the food could be set out and people could nibble and graze all evening. But no, she was insisting on a full-blown fancy sit down dinner. Said it wouldn’t be a proper celebration without a proper dinner. Nothing I said was going to change her mind, so I quit trying. Sometimes it was just easier to go along to get along.
“We plan on leaving the city about noon tomorrow,” I said. “So we should be in your driveway about three-ish, four at the latest, depending on the traffic and how many bathroom breaks I need to give Bella.” Bella was my 9-month-old, 100-pound English mastiff. She was housebroken but still needed to stop at least once on a car trip. “What time are Jesse and Ashley coming in?”
“I’m not sure. He hasn’t returned my calls. You know your brother. But last I heard, their flight should get in about that same time. Which will work out perfectly. He said they were planning on renting a car, so none of us needs to pick them up. Makes it easier managing the timetable.”
“Mother, you’re making this way too complicated.”
“What’s wrong with wanting things just so? If everyone gets here when they’re supposed to, we can have some snacks and visit, and then eat promptly at six.”
I was mad that she was giving me the third degree whereas she always seemed to let Jesse slide. She was all over me for every little thing, or at least that was how it felt to me. His luck, being the baby of the family, I guess. Her comment made me curious, though. I had also left a couple of messages for him that he hadn’t returned. Jesse ignoring both of us made me wonder if something was indeed wrong. He ignored my mother’s calls for the same reasons I often did, but he never purposely ignored mine. At least he always called me back within a few hours. For a sibling, I kind of liked him a lot.
“Is Cooper going to stay at his dad’s or did he want to stay here?” my mother asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“With us. He’ll visit his dad while we’re in town, but the farther he stays away from his stepmom the better they all get along, is what he tells me.”
“I don’t doubt it. That woman is dreadful.”
For my mother to say that about Harriet Sands, his stepmother, meant she really was. My mother didn’t often say bad things about anyone. She was of the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” mentality and, to her credit, followed that mantra the majority of the time.
Cooper’s real mom had left town a long time ago, when he was really young. He said he didn’t even remember her much, which always made me feel bad. Even though I didn’t always get along with my mother, I couldn’t imagine her not in my life. His dad had remarried this horrible woman when Cooper was in middle school. She was the stereotypical stepmother who wanted the child out of the way and she didn’t try to hide it, and that wasn’t even just Cooper’s point of view. That was everyone’s opinion who knew her. Well, except for Cooper’s dad, who didn’t seem to notice there was a problem between his new wife and Cooper. Either that or he purposefully chose to ignore it. Cooper said his dad just didn’t like conflict and so he always did his part to keep the peace just to make his dad happy. Even at a young age, he had a good enough understanding of the situation and tried to stay out of her way. Unfortunately, that meant not coming around all that often now that he was an adult and had the ability to remove himself from a toxic situation. I wished things were different for him but he said his dad loved her and that was all that mattered. I wasn’t sure I could have been so forgiving.
“You can say that again,” I said, agreeing with my mom on Harriet Sands being dreadful.
“Now, Cooper will probably have to bunk with Jesse, and Ashley with you. You know I don’t believe in sharing a room when you’re not married.”
“I know, Mom.” She was old-fashioned that way, but I had to admit it didn’t bother me as much as sleeping with Cooper under my parents’ roof would. I guess that meant I was old-fashioned, too. Some things you just never grew out of.
“Call me when you leave tomorrow so I know you’re on your way.”
“Will do, Mom.”
I got off the phone with her and wondered if I should try calling Jesse again. I looked at my watch. I had time before meeting Anna. I dialed his number, but the phone just rang and rang. Finally, the voicemail picked up, only to announce the voicemail was full. That was unusual. He might not be good about reading texts, but he generally checked his messages. Now I knew Mom and I weren’t the only ones he was ignoring. He was ignoring everyone. This knowledge made me more worried that something was actually wrong. But with him in Vegas, there wasn’t much I could do except wait for him to call back or see him tomorrow. Maybe I was overreacting and he was just busy. I hoped that was it; he was my baby brother, after all. The last time I had seen him, in Vegas, Ashley was missing and we later found out she was a DEA agent. That was definitely a memorable trip. Hopefully nothing nearly that exciting was going on with him now.
“Well, Bella. What do you think? Want to go for a quick walk before I meet Anna?” I’d really been taking the crazy dog-mom thing to new levels lately. I could have full conversations with my dog. Bella, who was sleeping on the sofa, heard her leash jingle and jumped up to meet me at the front door. I took that as a yes.
* * *
“Oh my God. You’re what?” I said to my friend Anna later that evening as we were having our annual holiday celebration with cocktails. Peppermint and pumpkin martinis, our seasonal favorites. Not mixed together; one of each. After the news she had just dropped on me, I might need to add the eggnog one into the mix.
“I know. I’m going to miss you too, but I need to get out of here,” Anna said and sighed. “I’m depressed and feel like a failure. Nothing seems to work to get me out of this funk. A change of scenery might do me some good. Get away from bad memories. Start creating some new ones. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I completely understand, but Vietnam? For two years? Can’t you just take a month-long vacation to Cabo or something? Why do you need to go halfway around the world?”
Anna took a sip of her drink and then smiled. “I don’t think a vacation would help. I need to work. To have something to keep my mind occupied. Getting far away from here is exactly what I need to get past this and become my old self again. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what will.”
Anna had gone through a really bad break-up while we were in Vegas for her wedding. Her fiancé, Jeff, had backed out on her the day before the wedding. Less than a month after they were supposed to get married, he married another girl and it had shaken Anna to the core. Here was a guy she thought loved her and was the person she was going to spend the rest of her life with, and he quickly married someone else. Although, my opinion was she was better off without him and she was really lucky she hadn’t gone through with the wedding.
“I get it, Anna. Trust me, I don’t blame you at all. I’m just going to miss you.” I forced a smile, trying to be encouraging for both her and me. “At least there’s email and Skype so we can easily stay in touch.”
“Thank you for understanding. My mother is panicked I’m leaving. She’s sure I’ll be kidnapped or something equally horrific,” she said, giving a little laugh.
I picked up my drink and swirled the peppermint around the glass. “When do you leave?”
“Wow! That soon?”
Anna nodded. “Once I made the decision, I didn’t want to wait. I already found someone to sub-lease my apartment and I gave my notice at work.”
That was the part that surprised me most about her decision. Anna loved her job and was recently awarded a promotion. Leaving for two years wouldn’t be good for her professionally. However, as I had recently discovered, there were many more important things in life besides a job, and I knew she wasn’t currently happy. If reexamining her life was what she wanted, I would support her. Even if it meant she was halfway around the world.
“I’m happy for you, Anna. And I think we should have that eggnog martini to celebrate!” I got up and walked around the table to give her a big hug. She immediately knew what I was doing because she got up too. Although, right before I could wrap my arms around her she shot me a glare and said, “No making me cry, Presley!”
“Okay, Okay.” I gave her a quick hug and then returned to my seat so we could order that eggnog martini.