I’m working on plot points while I’m between books. I think of a few ideas, then draw a blank. Think of a few more, etc. So it’s start and stop, brood for a while, then think of something else. And that’s when story ideas whisper in my ear to tempt me. And why not let them when I’m between books? So I wrote this one. It’s stalling so that I can have fun instead of working on plotting, and I know that, but it’s all right at this point. So here goes:
OR YOU’LL REGRET IT
I stretched out on the king-size bed–my bed, now—in the huge bedroom on the second floor with a deep balcony. My bedroom, now. In the massive mansion I’d envied since the first time I stepped foot in it.
Jackson Kendricks took everything he had for granted. His wealth. His good looks. His brain and talent. “None of it can take the place of people you love,” he’d often told me. He’d lost his parents when we were sophomores in college. A car accident when they were driving up to visit him at the university.
His mom and dad had invited me to come home with him many times, always welcomed me. They were glad their son had made a friend. Like he needed any. With money like he had, he could have bought as many as he wanted. But Jackson was painfully shy. I was painfully poor. I wasn’t as smart as he was. Or as talented. But I knew a good thing when it smacked me in the face. The heavens must have been smiling when they made me his roommate. The lady who’d read my palm at the street fair had told me my fortunes were going to change, and she’d been right.
“But you must be wise,” she’d cautioned. “Make the right choices, or you’ll live with regrets.”
She didn’t have to tell me twice. I started to study with him. We got pizza together. We went to football and basketball games together. Where I went, I invited him, and he always picked up the tab. People started calling us the “odd couple.” Me, poor and plain. Him, rich and handsome. But at one of the home games, a girl with long blond hair, deep blue eyes, and dimples to disappear in sat next to him. They began to talk. He invited her to grab burgers with us after the game. And they clicked.
Jackson wouldn’t ditch me. He was too nice, too loyal for that. So the three of us started doing things together, but he hung on her words instead of mine. He’d focus on her with a dazed look. And he invited her and a friend to come home with us for a three-day weekend. He said that the big, old house was too quiet, too lonely without his parents. Poor him, inheriting it all so early in life.
He and I had talked about going into business together when we graduated. He didn’t really need me. I knew that, but he didn’t have anyone else. He wanted a partner, and I didn’t have any money to invest in anything. So I said yes. But the pretty blond might ruin everything. She was graduating in our class, too, and she’d majored in marketing and was on the honor roll.
Jackson and I had an early class on Friday, and we could leave after we finished it. The girls decided to drive up later that night. Jackson had the housekeeper order all kinds of snacks and groceries for pizzas, burgers, and nachos. But the girls didn’t get there in time for supper. We waited. And waited. Until finally, near starving, we ate.
We stayed up and played cards, watched TV. It was almost one in the morning when the knock on the door sounded. The girls’ car had gone through an intersection on a red light and been totaled. Both dead.
It was his parents’ accident that had given me the idea. A brake line leaked, and their brakes didn’t work. Everyone knew girls didn’t take in their cars for checkups when they should.
Jackson lost it for a while. It took everything I could think of to get him back in school to finish the year. After we graduated, he poured all of his energy into setting up our business. We had a strong start, a promising future, so when the street fair came again, I walked into the fortune teller’s tent with a cocky grin.
She raised her dark eyebrows, pulled out her Tarot deck, and dealt a spread. Then she shook her head and pointed to the card The Fool. “That’s you,” she told me. “Don’t be stupid again. There are unseen forces working against you. Do the right thing, or you’ll regret it.”
Regret. Again. I blinked, confused, leaving her tent. How had I been stupid? I’d had a problem, and I took care of it. Now, all was good. I was walking to the Ferris Wheel to meet Jackson when I saw him, leaning to listen as a guy from our finance class talked to him.
When the guy left, I frowned. “What was that all about?”
“That was Mark Lisbon from school. He made an offer on our company, wants us to sell to him. We’d make a decent profit, but I like what we’re doing. I want to stick with it.”
“How much of a profit?”
When he told me, the numbers danced around in my head. We could sell and live comfortably and never work again. But wait! Jackson had never had to work, had he? He wanted to. But I didn’t.
For the next few weeks, I started spreading the rumor that I was worried about Jackson, that he was so depressed, I’d asked him to see a doctor, but he wouldn’t. And then, my friend almost made it easy for me. I walked into his room one afternoon and he was on balcony, bending over the railing, watching something in the distance. All it took was one hard push.
The funeral had been last week, and I think I looked properly shaken up and doleful. The housekeeper bought my act and went out of her way to cheer me up. Steaks and seafood for suppers. But now, I lay in Jackson’s bed in his big room and almost had to pinch myself. All of it was mine.
I was trying to count the crystals in the chandelier when it started to swing. I glanced out the open balcony doors, but there was no wind. The dresser drawers opened and closed. The mirror floated off the wall and hung above me, but it wasn’t my reflection in its glass. A beautiful blond girl was standing beside Jackson, and they were both smiling at me. I stared. That wasn’t possible. And then the mirror crashed. Shards of glass splintered in my skin, and two large shards poised above my neck and slashed down.
I blinked a few times, looking down at my body on the bed. Was that really me? Then what was I now? I held my hands in front of me and could see through them.
“Nice to have all of us together again,” a translucent Jackson said, smiling at me. “Brittany and I thought it only appropriate that you join us.”
“I don’t want to,” I said. “There’s nothing to do here. What happens next? Don’t we go to the light or something?”
Jackson snickered. “Is that really where you think you’ll go?”
“You can’t leave until we do,” Britanny told me. “And we want to stick around to see the transformation.”
“Of the house, of course.” Jackson waved his hand to include our surroundings. “My will left everything to you, but if you died, I donated everything to a children’s home. Soon, this old house will be filled with kids’ laughter.”
I cringed. “I don’t like kids.”
Jackson’s grin grew wider. “I remember you telling me that.” He and Brittany joined hands and went out to stand on the balcony when the housekeeper found me. Cops and men with a stretcher came next. I watched them carry my body away, shaking my head. I was so close. I’d almost had everything I’d ever wanted.
Then a voice sounded through the room. “Don’t be stupid. There are unseen forces working against you.”
I shivered. I knew that voice.
Jackson heard it, too, and turned to look at me. “She was trying to tell you to respond to generosity with generosity of your own. We could have all been happy. She tried to warn you.”
“Stupid fortuneteller. Why didn’t she just say what she meant?”
Jackson just shook his head at me and returned his attention to Brittany. They could hardly tear their eyes off each other. I’d say “Get a room,” but we were standing in Jackson’s bedroom, weren’t we?
And me? What of me? I was going to listen to happy children pound up and down the stairs. I’d wish I were dead, but hey, I was, wasn’t I?