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All the little pieces, p.6
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       All the Little Pieces, p.6

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  Faith put the milk away and the dishes in the dishwasher. The ‘change’ she was sensing was obviously imperceptible to others, instigated by her own Irish Catholic guilt. Hopefully, time would temper the guilt and the unsettling feeling would settle down and go away. After all, the unsuspecting mother in the Dr Seuss tale had no idea what calamities befell her house while she was away and she would never have to know since everything had been put back in its proper place. It was the children who faced the moral dilemma of whether or not to tell her. She looked around her kitchen. Would it really matter what had happened last night as long as everything was put back to the way it was supposed to be?

  Then she thought of the Explorer. She braced her hands on the island’s sink and stared at the door that led out to her garage. Not everything looked the same as it had when she’d left yesterday …

  After she’d finished cleaning the kitchen, she headed back upstairs to the laundry room. Her clothes from last night were buried in the hamper where she’d stuffed them, including her blue jeans. Her shirt smelled of wine and beer and smoke and partying and she sprayed it with Febreeze and a glob of Shout for good measure. Then she squirted a mound of the spot cleaner on the dark stain on her jeans and shoved everything in the washing machine, watching as it filled. A fresh start. A do-over.

  Then she headed back downstairs.

  The house had two garages: a double on one side where her car was, off the kitchen, and a single on the other side of the house, which was where Jarrod parked his Infinity. She hesitated for a moment with her hand on the door to the garage that housed her Explorer and held her breath. Part of her was hoping that last night was somehow a dream. A crazy nightmare that only felt real. Or maybe one that she was remembering as worse than what it actually was. She took a deep breath, turned the knob and flicked on the light. Her heart sank.

  The grille was dented and so was the bumper. There were two dents in the hood along with two deep scratches. It was all very, very real.

  She ran her hands over the hood, her fingertips following the scratches. On a shelf by the AC handler was a box of rags. She took one, wiped underneath the fender, held her breath again and looked at it.

  Nothing. There was nothing there. No blood.

  She exhaled. She stuck her head under the car and wiped again – hard. She looked again. Nothing. She scrubbed. The rag was dirty, but it wasn’t red. The rationalizations were back.

  Maybe it wasn’t blood that you thought you saw. Maybe it was grease.

  She got up and went over to the driver’s side window and looked in. She could see the scraggly streaks inside from where her own fingers had wiped away the fog when she first saw the girl. She traced the glass outside, where the girl had been standing, where she had placed her dirty palms. But like the dark substance under the fender, the handprints that she feared might still be there were gone.

  Faith took a deep breath, twisting the rag around and around in her fingers.

  Then she took the rag and wiped the glass clean, anyway.

  11

  ‘I can pull that out. No biggie. You don’t even need a paint job,’ said the mechanic with the name patch that read ‘Sal’.

  ‘Really?’ Faith exhaled a deep breath.

  ‘Yeah. It won’t be perfect, like if you got a new fender or nothing. Same with these dents on the hood. I’ll pop those out.’

  ‘That would be great. And the …?’ She pointed at the scratches next to the dents.

  ‘I can wet sand those,’ he answered with a smile. ‘I’ll try compound first. That might work.’

  ‘Well, that’s better than what I was thinking.’

  ‘Problem is your grille. You need a new one.’

  ‘Oh.’ Her face fell.

  ‘Oh man – you are far too pretty to have such a glum kisser. Listen, it must be your lucky day, ’cause I can probably get that part from a buddy without a hassle. Unless you want it new, because that might take a couple of days.’

  ‘No, no, it doesn’t have to be new, as long as it looks the same.’

  ‘It’ll look like you never hit …?’ he said, his voice rising. He was obviously waiting for her to fill in the blank.

  ‘A used part is fine,’ she replied.

  He nodded. ‘You’re paying cash, right? You don’t want to put it through insurance? That’s what you said on the phone.’

  ‘No. My rates will, you know … they’ll go up. I just want it fixed as soon as possible.’

  There was a brief silence. He rubbed his nose with a greasy finger, grinned and said, ‘Oh, I get it.’

  She shifted uncomfortably. ‘What?’

  ‘You don’t want the husband to know.’ He was looking at her wedding ring.

  ‘You got me.’

  ‘I’ve heard that before. But it’s a shame.’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘You’re married.’

  ‘Thanks, Sal. But you were nowhere to be found seven years ago.’

  He laughed. ‘I could fix your car for free no matter how many times you banged it up. And I’m very forgiving. Well, if you ever get rid of the husband, look me up. By the way, it’s Lou, not Sal,’ he said, pointing up at the sign above the garage bay that said: Lou’s Automotive Repair. Fast. Friendly. Dependable. ‘Sal’s my brother. He works here, too. And he lives with me. His shirt was the first one I found in the dryer this morning. Don’t mix us up if you come looking to take me up on that offer, Mrs …?’

  ‘Saunders.’

  ‘But if you’re coming in to complain, then ask for Sal,’ he added with a robust laugh.

  Faith looked around the garage. There was another car on a lift and a dozen smashed-up vehicles in the yard. ‘Can you do it today, you think, Lou? And the AC, too?’

  ‘Today? You crazy?’

  She bit her lip. She must have looked as desperate as she felt, because he added, ‘That husband of yours must be a real unsympathetic character. Accidents happen.’

  She nodded. ‘I can pay you … extra?’

  He studied her for a moment before he nodded. ‘It’s those blue eyes of yours; they’d get me to agree to anything. If you can throw an extra two-fifty my way, I’ll drop everything I’m doing just for you. I gotta see if Jimmy has that grille, so I may need you to come back later in the week to finish up. I can’t make no promises now.’

  ‘As long as you can get the dents taken care of today, I’d be really, really grateful.’

  ‘So what’d you hit anyways?’ Lou was down on the ground, examining the fender, his hands feeling up underneath it.

  Her heart began to race. There was nothing there.

  He stood back up and wiped his hands on his blue work pants. He stared at her, waiting for a response.

  ‘A deer,’ she said softly.

  He nodded. ‘Ouch. Not around here …?’

  ‘No. I was up north, at my sister’s, coming down 441. But it didn’t die. It … ran off,’ she answered softly.

  ‘Well, don’t worry about it none,’ Lou said as he walked her back into the office. ‘Deer can fuck up a car; you’re lucky this one didn’t do much damage. She probably wasn’t very big. And ya know,’ he added as Faith stared out the window, blinking back tears, ‘you couldn’t’ve hurt her too bad or she wouldn’t’ve gone and run off on ya, now, would she?’

  12

  The aroma of chocolate cake baking filled the air outside of Sweet Sisters. Faith could smell it the second she opened the taxi door. It was a scent that normally triggered fond memories of warm kitchens and holidays and baking with Grandma Milly. Today, though, she felt undeserving of such comforting nostalgias. The normalcy of the scent, of smelling it here outside her beloved bakery where she spent a good chunk of every day, made her feel like she had back at the house – anxious and guilty.

  She paid the driver and slipped in through the back door, passing the kitchen and heading straight for her office. She could tell from the chatter and bustle that the line was long and the tables were filled
, which was good – people were willing to dodge rain and blustery wind for a crème brûlée cupcake and a caramel apple latte. Financially October was going to be a good month, even with Octavius trying his damnedest to drive customers away.

  The back office was empty. On Vivian’s desk was a half-empty, cold cup of coffee and her makeup bag, but her purse was missing, which meant she was out of the office, but she hadn’t gone far. Vivian Vardakalis and Faith had been the best of friends since they were six. They’d stayed BFFs through high school, then were sorority sisters at UF, and now, for the past three years, business partners in Sweet Sisters. Faith knew Viv about as well as she knew her sister and for almost as long – the girl couldn’t go too long without lipstick and concealer. She was probably grabbing lunch, running errands, or at the bank. Faith had called her yesterday on her way up to Charity’s to tell her that she wouldn’t be in till late today, if at all, but she hadn’t spoken with her this morning. Though neither of them actually did the baking any more, one of them was physically present at the cupcakery every day. ‘It may take a village to raise a child,’ Vivian liked to joke, ‘but it only takes one employee with his hand in the till to bring down a cash-based business.’ She was an accountant by trade. ‘If the mice know the cat’s away, they play, play, play. And they don’t give a shit about over-frosting your three-dollar-and-fifty-cent cupcake so that you make even less profit on a perishable product with a limited shelf-life.’

  Vivian knew all about the drama parade that seemed to follow Charity’s life around. At different points over the years the three of them had been BFFs, but that was hard to maintain. As Faith’s mom had warned a long time ago, friendships in pairs worked fine, but odd numbers meant there was an odd man out. Through high school it was pretty much Vivian & Faith and ‘we could ask Charity to come, too!’ After college, when Vivian had gotten wrapped up with her husband, Gus, and following his life around, Faith and Charity had reconnected. Then four years ago, Nick had made Charity move from Miami to Sebring – or as Jarrod called it, ‘Bumfuck’ – and the relationship with her sister had changed to long distance. Gus, meanwhile, had gotten a job with Motorola, Vivian had returned to South Florida and the BFF roles rotated positions once again. That was when the idea of Sweet Sisters was first conceived – during a ladies’ night out to celebrate Vivian’s purchase of a home a mile away from Faith’s in Parkland. Too many martinis later, it didn’t seem like such a silly idea to start a cupcakery. Two months later, when both of them were perfectly sober, they’d found the perfect location, signed a lease and started the build-out. Today they had a healthy Internet business and were looking at expanding with another store in Fort Lauderdale. The notion of franchising was no longer a pipedream – they both joked about someday giving Starbucks a run for its money. Faith sometimes felt bad that the idea for Sweet Sisters had come to her when the BFF positions had switched. Charity’s financial situation wouldn’t have let her be a partner, but she might’ve been able to participate in the business in other ways, and maybe her life would be different right now. Maybe she’d stayed with Nick and put up with his shit because she didn’t want to be a single mom and the odd man out in Coral Springs.

  Faith closed the door behind her and went to her desk, trying to push all thoughts of her sister from her head. Right now she didn’t want to have pity for Charity, in any way shape or form. But there, stuck to her computer screen, was a note from Vivian: Charity called AGAIN. She has your phone??? And purse?? She said to tell you she’s sorry for being a bitch? Can’t wait to hear this one! That explains why you’re not answering your phone, I guess …

  Faith’s eyes welled at the memory of her sister standing hand in hand with Nick, watching with the crowd as she wrestled a crying, screaming, freaking-out Maggie into the car in the pouring rain. She wanted to tell Vivian what had happened, but then the rest of the night rushed into the mortifying memory. Leading the charge was the haunting, pale face of that girl. The thick, glue feeling in her stomach was back. And she knew she couldn’t tell her best friend that part. She couldn’t tell anyone that part. Ever.

  Work. Bury yourself in a project. The fervent need to get this off your chest will pass. That girl is OK. Maggie is OK. Everything will be OK.

  She wiped the tears before they fell, sat down at her desk and pulled out the file of purchase orders. After that was the ad copy she needed to write for the Sun-Sentinel and the application she had to finish for Cupcake Wars – the Food Network baking competition show that she was trying to get Sweet Sisters on. And finally, payroll. That should keep her in the office and her mind busy until the Explorer was ready. There was no way she could talk to Charity today without losing it – either breaking down in tears or screaming like a lunatic at her. It wasn’t going to be a quiet conversation, no matter what. While Faith verbally wanted to blame her accident and dented car on her sister, and shift some of the guilt she was feeling onto her shoulders, she didn’t want anyone to know what had happened last night after she’d left the party – what she had done. Or, more accurately, what she hadn’t.

  She tapped her fingers anxiously on the desk phone and thought again about calling the police. But what good would that do now? Time had kept ticking on. Those characters, that girl, were long gone. Questions would still be asked by the police that she still didn’t have the answers to. And while she’d pass a breathalyzer for sure now, her car was sitting in a repair shop. How would that look? She’d have to explain the accident to Jarrod. And now the cover-up of the accident. Once again, she pulled her hand off the phone. Charity had been so wasted last night, so damn wasted – now she wanted to apologize? All that had happened had happened for no reason? The thought made her so angry her hands shook. Perhaps the best way to handle her sister would be to send her a text from Vivian’s phone cordially telling her to please mail the purse and cell back – that she would even send her a check for the postage. Leave it at that. Leave their whole relationship at that. What made her even more upset was knowing that Charity was likely apologizing because Nick was back to being an ass this morning and she wanted to go back to complaining about him and her life. Just hit the reset button and all is forgiven. It’s business as usual. Faith looked around the office that, like her home, looked the same as she’d left it on Saturday, but was somehow totally different. Not today it’s not, Charity. Life might never be usual ever again. On the other side of the wall she could hear the bakers laughing and kidding around with each other. She envied the simplicity of their conversation.

  A graduate of the College of Journalism at UF, owning a cupcake bakery was the last thing in the world Faith Saunders would ever have imagined herself doing. She might have fond memories of helping Grandma Milly bake cookies at Christmas, but stirring the batter, pouring in the chips and testing the dough was about the extent of what her grandma ever let her do. Hence, she was lacking some serious culinary skills after Grandma Milly left for, as she called it, ‘the big dog park in the sky’ – reunited for eternity with the dozens of Boston terriers she’d raised over her eighty years. Faith certainly hadn’t learned anything in the kitchen from her mother, Aileen, who couldn’t boil water and hadn’t inherited her own mother’s fondness for baking; cracking open a roll of Nestlé Toll House was asking too much. It was Faith’s dad who’d taught Faith the basics so she could survive and snag herself a husband. Patrick ‘Sully’ Sullivan was a closet cook. By the time Faith graduated high school she could grill meat, roast potatoes, and make pasta. As for dessert, Sully was off-the-boat Irish – he finished off his meals with a Jameson twelve-year-old – so Faith had never had any experience in baking confections. Dessert usually meant peeling the lid off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or defrosting a Sara Lee cheesecake.

  Jarrod had thought she was still drunk the morning after that ladies’ night out when she told him about her and Vivian’s plans to abandon a stalled writing career and a fledgling accounting practice to become bakers. It’d taken her a few weeks and continuous tries
with various recipes in the kitchen to convince him she was serious. But when he came around to the idea, he’d embraced it. He was the one who’d actually found the former Payless shoe store property in a strip mall in Coral Springs. And he had been able to negotiate a good chunk of the build-out into the lease, which made the project less financially daunting.

  Initially, the plan upon graduation had been to take her journalism degree and become the next Edna Buchanan at some hotshot publication, then use all the fascinating stories she’d reported on as inspiration for the crime fiction novels she was going to write from her and Jarrod’s hip Manhattan apartment, as he worked his way up the ladder of some fancy New York law firm. But as Steinbeck once noted, the best-laid plans often went astray, awry or up in smoke: the hotshot publications weren’t hiring and Jarrod had decided to go with the Public Defender’s Office in Miami. Time was gone and New York was out. Faith had waited tables at night and managed a kiosk at the Aventura mall that first year out of school, sending out résumé after résumé, feeling beyond dejected when the phone didn’t ring. When the managing editor of the monthly South Florida magazine, Gold Coast, offered her a part-time position as a features writer she’d jumped on it, happy to finally be working in her field and hoping to build her résumé so when the market rebounded and the hotshot publications opened their online doors she’d get to do what she thought she’d always wanted to be doing: investigative reporting.

 
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