Karrie climbed the steps to the back porch and unlocked the door. It had been over four years since she'd been here. Loaded down with luggage, her laptop and tablet, plus a bag of groceries, she ignored the shadow she glimpsed out of the corner of her eye. Probably just a leaf blowing by in the wind.
Putting away the groceries, she thought about Parker, uh Jack. She'd have to get used to calling him that. As good looking as ever. Thick, slightly curly dark hair, blue eyes, and a dimple in his chin.
They'd been on opposite ends of the social spectrum in high school. She'd been a bad girl, the one always getting in trouble. The one caught smoking in the girl's room. The one caught out after curfew walking home. The one wearing too much make-up and too short skirts.
He'd been in the good kid crowd, good grades, good in sports, good dresser. He hadn't changed much. She sighed, deciding she really liked his new look. Longer hair and a bit of scruff highlighting the sensual curve of his lips. Even more of a hunk. She shook her head to dispel thoughts of Jack.
The chime from the mantle clock reminded her that it was mid afternoon already. Better open the smoked salmon so it could thaw and take out the cream cheese to warm to room temperature. Satisfied she had the food for her favorite evening snack under control, she put the suitcase in the bedroom and her electronic gear in the living room. She loved that Grammy Lou had kept up with the times and Birch Haven had an Internet connection. At camp, DSL was just fine. She settled into the chair at the desk to check e-mail.
After a short time, her fingers were chilled. She'd forgotten to turn up the thermostat. Plus, snow was beginning to fall in earnest. Might be a good idea to get a fire started in the fireplace. She slipped on her jacket and scuffed through the snow to the pile of split logs. A supply of wood on the back porch would be more convenient.
After shifting an armload, she decided to get her work gloves. Between splinters and cold wood, her hands were taking a beating. Inside, she thought she saw a shadow between the kitchen and living room.
Had her parents disrespected her wishes? Wouldn't be anything new. "Hello," she called. When no one answered, she grabbed a pair of gloves out of the bag hanging beside the kitchen door. "I must be seeing things," she muttered.
Half an hour later, she had enough split logs stacked under cover on the porch to last her through the weekend.
Time to get inside and prepare food for a quiet night at camp.
* * *
Climbing the back steps and carrying the second load from his car, Jack Thompson slipped on a patch of snow-covered ice. His ankle twisted and his duffel bag went flying. He gasped as sharp pain clamped his ankle in a burning vice. Gingerly, he put his weight on his foot. Not a good idea. Struggling up the last step, he dumped his bag in the kitchen and hobbled into the bathroom. No aspirin. Or any other pain meds.
"Mother probably used it up for her last hangover," he muttered. "Never thinks of anyone but herself."
The pain in his ankle settled into a deep ache. He needed something to stop the hurting. Maybe Karrie could help. Remembering her smile and the way her blue eyes glinted in appreciation, he forgot the pain for a minute. She'd changed from a rebel with red streaks in her blond hair to a stunning version of the girl next door.
He filled a Ziploc bag with ice and tied it around his ankle. Retrieving a walking stick from the antique milk can beside the front door, he limped down the road to her camp. Even if she didn't have aspirin, seeing her again would be worth any embarrassment about being a gimp.
"Nooooooo." Had to be Karrie yelling.
Jack hopped up the steps and pushed open the kitchen door. "What's wrong?"
Standing in the middle of the small kitchen, she turned, one fist planted on her hip and the other pointing at the counter.
He stepped inside and closed the door, not sure what he was supposed to see.
She stamped a foot. "My salmon. It's gone."
That explained the empty space. If she was two years old, she'd probably be on the floor screaming.
"Yeewwww. Something's been lapping the cream cheese."
He leaned against the door frame and shifted his weight to his uninjured foot. "Sounds like a cat to me."
"I don't have a cat."
"Maybe you do now. Could be that a stray has adopted you."
"She picked a rotten time to move in. Now I have to buy more salmon."
Another twinge of pain reminded him of his injured ankle.
When he didn't say anything, she looked closely at him. "You okay?"
"Not really. I twisted my ankle and I came to beg some Tylenol from you."
"All we have is aspirin. That okay? Tylenol never worked for Gram."
"Have a seat." She gestured to a dining area chair. "I'll get some."
He swallowed the pills with the water she handed him. "Getting ready for the party, I see."
"Not really. I'm staying in. This is--was--for me."
"Aw, come on. You can't miss seeing the new year in with the extraordinary display of fireworks we do around here."
She laughed. "You might want to dial that down to a few sparklers."
"Not any more. 'Member. We can have real fireworks in Maine now." He waggled his eyebrows.
"I don't have any food to bring." She pouted and pointed to her empty plate.
"Now, you're just grabbing at excuses. Just to make sure you come, I'll ride shotgun with you to the store."
"You sure with your ankle?"
"Yep. Keep my mind off the pain."
"That'll be great. For both of us." Karrie slipped on her jacket, grabbed her purse and led the way to her car.
Settling behind the wheel, she turned the key. Nothing happened except an ominous click.