Excerpt: Images of Betrayal

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Abandoned by her family, Tysan works as a waitress in a cheap diner. One cold evening, a beguiling, rugged young man barges into her life. He possesses the remarkable ability to take photographs of events that have not yet happened.

Ty narrowly avoids a harrowing death in a disastrous explosion, only to be drawn into a dizzying cascade of conflicts involving a new family that takes her in, Walker-her apparent savior, David-her new admirer and her own family. Kidnapping, betrayal, obsessive love and courageous lovers co-mingle in this romantic thriller.

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Images-of-Betrayal-by-Claire-CollinsChapter One

“Ty honey, I’m getting married!” His voice was strange, almost like when he was drunk, except he didn’t slur his words.

“You are? To who? Dad, where are you?”

How was I supposed to feel? Relieved he was alive? Angry he vanished and called to tell me he was getting married?

“Vegas, Baby! I met this great woman and I love her so we came up here for a vacation and decided to get married. Isn’t that a hoot?”

“Yeah Dad, a real hoot. What about the apartment and the bills? I’m barely hanging by a thread here. When are you coming back?”

The silence from the other end was impacted by the constant ringing of bells and rolling slot machines. Someone won big and a group of people yelled. Finally, Dad broke the silence.

“I don’t think I’m coming back, Ty. Marlene has a nice house out near Springfield and I’m going to live there with her.”

I noticed pretty quick that he didn’t expound on that bit of information. “What about me, Dad?” I tried not to cry. “Where do I go?”

“You can stay in the apartment. I’ll send you an allowance every month to pay the bills. You’ll be fine.”

I couldn’t keep my voice from breaking. “But why can’t I come with you?”

He sighed loudly on the other end like I was forcing him to do something he didn’t want to.

“Ty, Marlene has three kids of her own and she just doesn’t want any more in the house. You can’t come with me. Besides, you have all your friends and high school to worry about. You need to finish out school there where you know people. Move back in with your mom and do all the things teenagers are supposed to do.”

My tears became angry. How could he do this to me? “What friends Dad? What high school? You disappeared and I had to go to work full time to pay the bills. Thank God I get to eat at the restaurant or else I would’ve starved to death! Mom won’t even talk to me when I call or go over there. And now you’re getting married to some woman I’ve never heard of and never coming back?”

I had to gulp in air and fight to breathe. My anger squeezed my chest like a vice.

“Ty, you listen to me. Marlene makes me happier than your mother ever did. I’m not going to give up this chance because you think I owe you something. You’re a stubborn headstrong kid who thinks she knows everything. You’ve always been that way. You’ll figure out how to take care of yourself. I have to go now. They’re calling my name for the wedding to start.”

The line went dead before I could even reply.

I slid down the wall and sat on the floor with the phone still in my hand. At my age, I was supposed to be out with friends, going to the movies, hanging out, gossiping with girlfriends, talking about boys, dating, and going to high school. Instead, I sat alone on the floor, surrounded by furniture bought at second-hand stores.

Life changes so fast, even when you’re only sixteen. Maybe it changes even faster at that age. All I know is that in a matter of a few months, I went from a nice house in the suburbs of Independence, Missouri to a tiny apartment in Kansas City. I went from having two parents who I thought loved me to having no one. I went from high school to the working world, and it just got worse from there.

Mom divorced me just as much as she divorced her husband. There was no custody battle. Mom took the four younger kids and Dad took me.

We moved into a tiny two-bedroom apartment in the worst neighborhood I had ever seen. The first few nights, I stayed awake all night; shivering and scared of the noises I could hear through the walls. Dad said it was all he could afford since he paid out most of his check to Mom so she could support the other kids.

I still went to high school, for what it was worth. I didn’t learn anything there. My grades plummeted from straight A’s to D’s. I didn’t really care. I stopped going to the debate club meetings and the high school football games. Instead, I worked waiting tables at a steakhouse after school. Somehow, in the middle of everything, my seventeenth birthday came and went without fanfare. Even I missed it. It was just another day of working.

Dad lived in the apartment with me for a while even though he was rarely there. His new passion after the divorce was to spend as much time as possible at the bar. Sometimes he came home laughing and would dance me around the living room. He tripped over the furniture, stumbling, falling, and taking me down with him. Other times, he would sit in the darkened living room and cry. He didn’t even know if I was there or not.

One day, he stopped coming home at all. This monumental occurrence had little effect on me. I was already paying all of the bills since those pesky notices threatening disconnection didn’t faze him. I got tired of taking cold showers in the dark. Around that time, I stopped going to school so I could work full time. Like I had any choice.

Then the phone call came from Dad.

And I cried.

I cried for my torn up family and for my lost youth. I cried because I missed my brothers and sisters and my parents. I cried because I knew there would never be a prom or graduation or college. All of my silly little girl dreams died with that phone call.

At least Dad was right about some things. I was stubborn and I would find a way to get through this. I got off the floor and sat on the faded flowery couch, my checkbook on the table in front of me.

Maybe I could find a roommate and split the costs of the apartment. I already walked the rent up to the front office in cash. The receptionist always gave me such sad looks since my father was working so much. Or at least that was the story I told her. I mailed the checks for the other bills. As long as I put the account numbers on the checks, the utility companies didn’t care that the checks said Tysan Reynolds instead of Frederick Reynolds.

Along with rent and utilities, I had a thirty-year old car that ran but sucked down gas. Dad bought me the car so I could get to school and work since he wasn’t home much. Some friend of his had it sitting in his barn for years. Dad snapped it up for a few hundred dollars and presented it to me like it was a Porsche.

“They don’t make cars like this anymore Ty. This baby’s a classic. Built like a tank.”

It looked like one too. A tank that had been through a battle and lost. Huge rust spots ate through the back fenders of the old Plymouth like a starving parasite. The seals around the windows leaked every time it rained and puffs of black smoke billowed from where the tailpipe used to be. At least he paid for a year of car insurance before he disappeared. A copy of the policy resided in my dresser drawer along with the rent contract and other important papers. I placed my checkbook in the drawer next to the insurance papers and the bills. I didn’t have enough clothes to fill the dresser so the entire top drawer was empty except for the papers defining my life.

I left my room and wandered across the hall into the room my dad used to sleep in. I hadn’t really noticed before that he didn’t have anything in there. The dresser was empty except for a few holey socks, some rumpled shirts and a ton of losing lottery tickets. The closet didn’t look much better with a pile of trash on the floor and a bunch of old work shirts hanging up. I flipped off the light and went to bed, falling asleep with tears on my pillow.

The next morning, I stood in the bathroom wrapped in a towel. I used another to wipe away the steam condensing on the mirror. Through the clear streak, my light brown hair and round face came into view. Despite the baby fat still lingering on my cheeks, my eyes looked older than they should have. They portrayed the age I felt instead of my real age. I was too young to be old and too old to be young.

I combed my long wavy hair out and pulled it into a tight bun at the back of my head. No loose hairs strayed out to get caught up in the customer’s food. I applied makeup, an art I only discovered a year earlier. I still thought I looked funny with makeup on, but I needed to look old enough for the patrons at The Country Steakhouse to decide that I deserved the tips they gave me.

I scrutinized my appearance. Brown eyeliner did set off my hazel eyes nicely. A pair of jeans, a western shirt, the dreaded boots, bandana around my neck, and I was ready for work. I threw my winter coat on over the whole thing and pulled the hood over my head. Taking one last look around the empty apartment, I locked the door and walked through the snow to the Plymouth. At least I got to park right in front of my door since we lived on the lowest level.

I unlocked the doors and got in the freezing car. On the third try, the engine caught and roared to life. Okay, so maybe it didn’t really roar to life. It hiccupped and gurgled to life. I breathed into my hands to try to warm them. Soon, I would have to break down and go buy a pair of gloves to keep my hands frostbite free. Midwest winters were unforgiving and didn’t care if you could afford gloves or if your car didn’t have heat.

Maybe I really shouldn’t say it didn’t have heat. Heat poured off the engine and raced into the front seat through the vents. It smelled a lot like oil, but at least it was warm. I sat in the car for fifteen minutes while it ran and the engine warmed up. I used the pliers on the seat next to me as a handle to roll the window down slightly to let the fumes out while I waited. I didn’t dare let the car warm up while I stayed inside the apartment. If I did, someone would steal it for a joyride.

The engine settled to an inconsistent rumble and I dropped the shifter into reverse. After a quick stutter forward, the car decided it would do as I requested and it lurched back, finally realizing the gear it was supposed to be in. I let off the brake and coasted backwards out of the parking spot. I put the car in drive, and after another pause, a lurch forward told me the car was ready to move that direction now. The parking lot was a huge sheet of ice. Salting it or plowing it was too costly for the cheap bastards who ran the place, so tenants took their chances in the parking lot. There were lots of fender benders and cars sliding the wrong way. Thankfully, I had never slid into anyone yet. My tank would easily flatten any modern tin can car in its path.

The city streets weren’t as icy as the parking lot, so the ride smoothed out once I got away from the apartments. I drove past homeless huddled together in back alleys and muddy snowmen in front of shacks passing as homes. At a stoplight, a man with a squeegee walked past the front of my Plymouth to attack the windshield of the SUV in the lane next to me. The driver tried to wave him off with a look of disgust. Knowing he wouldn’t be getting a tip for his effort, the vagabond walked around the front of the SUV to the safety of the sidewalk, and spit on the windshield as he went. The driver cursed him and opened the door of his truck. The light turned green and he drove off instead. I pushed the gas and Tank took a minute to decide it was okay to actually go.

Arriving at work, I parked in the back with the other employees and used the cowboy boots like ice skates to slide to the back door. The snow was falling as fiercely as snow can fall without a strong wind pushing it. I shook the snow from my hood and coat as I hung it on a hook and turned to say good morning to Mark. He ran the machine that washed the dishes. It was his job to make sure everything came out clean and ready to use.

Light brown hair fell over his eyes as he nodded at me before tipping his head back to throw the hair out of his face. His adam’s apple protruded from his too thin neck. One hand sprayed specks of food off dirty plates and the other threw the plates machine-gun style into the rubber racks to run them through the dishwasher. They came out at the front of the machine and Mark stacked them into slots in the wall that separated the kitchen from the dishwasher. Despite his proximity to the back door, Mark stayed warm from the heat rising from the hot water of the machine. It was pointless to try to talk over the noise in this section of the kitchen when the machine was running. I grabbed a clean apron from the stack at the door and walked into the kitchen.

I started working here the week after I turned sixteen and now my eighteenth birthday is less than two months away. I’m no longer a new employee, but most of the staff accepted me as one of their own right away. The people here were the closest I had to a family now. The only stability I knew.

Brian Phillips was the morning cook, but everyone called him Chop because somewhere along the way, he missed while cutting vegetables and lost the ends of two fingers. As the story goes, he was showing off his culinary skills to a group of pretty women at a party. He had been drinking a bit. Okay, a lot.

When he cut them off, he actually busted out laughing before passing out. It all happened before I ever met him, and his fingers healed up a long time ago, but he loves to tell the story of how he lost the fingers and gained the nickname.

Chop was frying steak and eggs in one pan and an omelet concoction in another as I walked through the kitchen, tying the apron around my waist as I went.

“Miss Ty! Good mornin’ to ya young lady.” Always cheerful and exuberant, Chop expertly flipped the steak and filled the omelet without missing a beat. His hands moved non-stop despite the relaxed expression and his wide grin. His girth proved his love for food and his calm demeanor showed his love of life. Nothing ever got Chop down.

I paused in the walkway at the end of the row of ovens and open flames. There was a strict rule that if you didn’t cook, you didn’t walk down the rubber matted aisle where the stoves were. He only had the new grill fired up. The old grill at the end sat cold. That meant the dining room was busy but not so bad that I was going to have to jump out there and start racing from the tables to the kitchen.

“How’s life today, Chop?” I couldn’t help but smile as he winked at me. His black eyes shone with mischief, one hand rested on his ample belly.

“Darlin’, I’m a big black man livin’ in a tiny white world. What could be better? Life is always good!”

He said something similar every morning, and every morning, I laughed.

“Good to hear it. Be careful with those knives today, okay?”

I winked at him and he laughed with me, just like every other morning.

I started walking down the walkway to the front of the kitchen as Chop called out, “May God bless you today with lots of tips to fatten your pockets, Ty!”

I gave him a thumbs up and pushed through the swinging door to the waitress area, which ran the length of the front counter. At the other end of the area was another door to enter the kitchen so no one ran into each other coming and going. I made sure all of my hair was still secure, smoothing any unruly tendrils trying to escape as I surveyed the front dining area. There were two party rooms off to the side of the restaurant. Both were closed at the moment because breakfast was never as busy as dinner.

Sheila McKee was the only waitress on duty from the time the restaurant opened at five o’clock in the morning until I got there at six. She spent twenty of her forty years of life waiting on other people. If she wasn’t waiting on people in a restaurant, she was waiting on her husband and kids. She liked it. Taking care of everyone else made her feel good. She was useful and needed. She explained it to me many times.

“How’s it going Sheila?”

“Been a typical morning, hun. All these grouchy old men making demands on me.”

The frown and disapproving look on her face was obviously fake and given away by the smile in her brown eyes. She pulled a pen from over her ear, barely disturbing the wavy, brown-from-a-bottle hair that framed her face. It was probably naturally brown when she was younger, but the gray crept in over the years.

Appreciative chuckles rolled out of the men at the counter. No one made Sheila do a thing she didn’t want to do. There were a couple of old timers sitting at a table near the window, and seven customers lined the counter, most of them talking to each other or Sheila. These were our regulars. It was too cold and snowy for new patrons to be wandering in. I waved and smiled at them as they acknowledged my presence.

I grabbed a pot of coffee and made my way down the counter, automatically refilling every cup before heading to the table at the door. Crocker was the old man sitting closest to the door and his friend’s name was Bill. They lived in the retirement community down the street from the restaurant and ate almost every meal here. Both were widowers and old enough to be my great grandfathers.

“Little girl, every mornin’ I tell you to get your butt out of this restaurant and get back to school, but every mornin’, you show back up here.”

Black coffee poured into his cup as I gave him my most innocent smile.

“Yes Mr. Crocker, and every mornin’, I remind you that you didn’t even finish the fifth grade and you did just fine in life.”

Bill smiled and I winked at him as Crocker tried his most fatherly tone on me. “Girl, you know things was different then and you can’t use that as an excuse!”

Despite the gruffness of his aged voice, Crocker cared about my welfare and I knew it.

“Things are the same as they have always been Crocker. People still need to eat and pay bills, even little girls.” I walked away with the coffee pot as Crocker just shook his head. They would tip me well. They always did.

***

Claire Collins resides in North Carolina and writes across many genres. She loves reading when she gets the time around her family and her work schedule. She currently has two novels available through Second Wind Publishing and is working on her third, Seeds of September. 

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