Grace Steele: The Prequel

       Holly Hudson / Mystery & Detective
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Grace Steele:
Death in the Pine Forest
Holly Hudson

Copyright ©2017 by H.M. Hudson
Smashwords Edition
No part of this publications may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Grace Steele: The Prequel

Joe put another log into the woodturning stove and lay back down next to Claudia on the large, white bearskin run. She was hoping it didn’t come from a real bear, maybe just an Ikea bear, but whatever, it felt really good on her almost naked skin. She was wearing nothing but a red and white flannel shirt and panties, her long red hair fanned out on the rug. Joe, sat propped up on one arm and scanned her body, his V-necked black T-shirt revealing the perfect line of his collarbone that she found inexplicably sexy. He started tracing the length of her body with his hand and she shuddered at how excited his velvety touch made her. She arched her back and turned towards him, closing her eyes. As she did that, he lightened his touch. Finally, he leaned in and brushed his lips against hers, then took them away again. She moved towards him and he pulled back, teasing her and making her want him even more.

I stopped writing on my yellow legal pad and tossed it to the side on my bed. I write an anonymous blog series online called Too Gorgeous. I guess you could say Claudia is my “Alter-ego.” If my parents knew about this they’d no doubt kill me. Or more likely, just ground me into the next century. But that would be kind of funny as it wouldn’t do anything to keep me from writing. They’d have to take away the Internet. That is not something I like to think about.
I reached over to my bedside table and opened the small drawer. I took out the vibrator, one I’d swiped from my mother, Lena’s, stash that I don’t think she knew I knew about. It was purple, made of some kind of silicone material, and curved like a well-worn stone from the sea which made it fit perfectly into the palm of my hand. Okay, just in case you’re wondering, I sterilized it before I started using it. Anyway, I didn’t think she’d miss it, she seemed to have a few others tucked away in a black drawstring bag at the back of her closet. And Lena (as I prefer to call my mom) and I may have a good relationship and all but it’s not like I’m going to go discussing vibrator usage with her. I mean, I do have boundaries.
It was after midnight and I’d only gotten home a bit ago from the party outside of town at Joe Caliri’s house. He had a huge bonfire going and a bunch of people from my school were there, plus a few older, and slightly weird townies. I went with my best friend, Talia, and her boyfriend, Trevor, but I didn’t want to leave with them because I ended up in the most deep and meaningful conversation of my life with Joe. We just sat by the bonfire all night and talked, while everyone around us seemed to be passing a bong or drinking cans of Budweiser from a cooler. I didn’t like either and was not partaking, and Joe didn’t seem to be either, which was cool because we were in a world of own making far away.
I’d known Joe since we were kids, like just about everyone else who had grown up in Two Gorges, our tiny, hippy village, misplaced in the cornfields of the Midwest. But I hadn’t really talked to him in years. We didn’t have the same friend group, despite the fact he was one of Sam’s oldest friends. Sam is my other best friend, and no, he’s not gay, just because he’s a guy who’s one of my best friends.
But back to Joe. God, he was hot. He must have been about 6’2”, with dark curly hair he was letting grow long and big brown eyes. He had always managed to bridge the worlds of being both a jock and an honor student, and he had a lot of friends across the various factions that made up our small high school. He had skipped sixth grade and so was a year ahead of us and about to graduate in the spring. This should tell you that yes, in addition to being hot, he was also super smart. But there was also something hidden about him, something dark and slightly dangerous that I couldn’t put my finger on, which of course made him all the sexier.
Anyway, we got to talking and we just couldn’t stop. It was as if we were both meeting each other for the first time at the bonfire. We talked about writing. He told me how he discovered he actually really liked to write, something he wouldn’t have guessed if it had not been for Mr. Siegel’s AP Creative Writing class he took the past year. I told him I thought Mr. Siegel was the best teacher at the high school and my favorite of course. He asked me a lot about my writing. I just said I liked to write short stories — I didn’t tell him they were mostly of the romantic and passionate variety. My secret.
We talked about traveling, which parts of the world we wanted to explore first. How we both wanted to get far away from the Midwest and discover the rest of what the world had to offer. We even talked about relationships. Or he did and I listened. I didn’t have much to offer on the subject though I consider myself an unofficial student of human relationships as a writer. He’s had more “on the ground” experience let’s say. The only thing we didn’t get into was talking about our families. I told him about what it was like living with Lena when my dad was gone a lot for work. All he said was, “Yeah, families are hard.” I couldn’t get anything more out of him on the subject.
We must have talked for a couple hours by the bonfire, sitting on milk crates so close together our knees rested against each other. A lot of people were coming and going and hanging out. Every now and then Joe would get up to hand someone a beer or point them towards the bathroom in the house, but he always came back and sat down and picked up right where we left off. It was midnight and Lena texted me she was on her way to pick me up. By this time I was pretty sure I smelled completely like a campfire, which was pretty gross, but I guess we both did. When she pulled up in her Honda CRV, I suddenly felt awkward saying goodnight to him with her watching. There was so much more I wanted to say but didn’t know how much I should show my interest. I ended up mumbling something like, “Great talking to you. Let’s do it again sometime!” Ugh! Horrible closing line.
“Yeah, for sure!” he said, and gave me a wave as I walked off towards Lena’s car idling in the driveway, her headlights beaming straight towards us. The ride home I didn’t say much as I found myself dissecting his parting words and wondering if he felt what I felt. Did he want to spend time with me again? Luckily, Lena seemed lost in her own thoughts and didn’t ask too many questions about my night.
And so there I was, sitting propped up again my pillows, the duvet pulled up over my knees that were close to my chest. I looked at the clock: 1:03 am. I found the little on switch for the purple vibrator and pushed it up. I reached down and put it between my legs and felt a crazy, melting, enveloping shudder that seemed to permeate my entire being. I let myself go with it and pictured Joe leaning in closer to me on the bearskin rug, the lick of the flames in the fireplace warming my bare skin. I imagined looking back into his warm brown eyes as he watched me play with my vibrator. I think this vibrator was a keeper and I was going to have to give it a name.

On Monday at school, I decided to do the first bold thing I’d done in a really long time. I sat down next to Joe Caliri at lunch outside at one of the picnic tables. Truthfully, I was a bit nervous but I didn’t really think it was that bold a thing to do. After all, or so I kept telling myself, we hit if off the other night and talked for hours, so what would be the big deal, right? Well, I was mortified and I am not exaggerating. I sat down and said, “Hey, Joe? What’s going on?”
I kid you not, he looked at me as if I was a complete and utter stranger. He said, “Hi?” Like, in that, do-I-know-you kind of way. I immediately felt a flush of heat and red rising up from my chest and no doubt taking over my neck and face like a crimson tidal wave.
I stumbled on my words but said something like, “That was a fun party the other night — thanks for inviting me.”
He only barely granted me any recognition at that point. “Oh yeah, cool. Sure, no problem,” he said. Then added, before I made myself too comfortable I guess — not that I was feeling remotely comfortable at this point. “I’m actually waiting for someone here.”
“Oh, sorry! Sure. I just wanted to say hi,” at that moment I glanced off towards the exit to the school and saw this senior girl, Celina, walking towards us with what like the eyes of a hawk zeroed in on me. I got the whole picture in an instant. She was his latest conquest. Or maybe vice versa, judging from the look in her eye. Whichever it was, it was clearly not to be little old me and Joe Caliri. How could I have been so off base? I literally wanted to die on the spot in that moment. If someone could have thrown a pail of water on me and I could have evaporated like the old wild witch of the west in The Wizard of Oz, I would have been eternally grateful.
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