Shaken Bake

Rain had to work the night shift, so he dropped me home to claim my car. I rushed into the empty house, freshened up and hit the road. Dusk had begun to set in by the time I arrived at Starlet’s.

 

I scanned my card at the gate and entered the complex. Starlet’s two guest parking spaces were empty, and Alex’s looked ghostly without his big truck parked there. The truck had been impounded when he was arrested. It was there that the blood remnants were found.

 

I shook off the veil of sadness threatening to overtake me. I had to believe that all would be well soon.

 

Empty spaces meant Taylor probably hadn't arrived. That was a good thing, since I really wanted to talk to Starlet beforehand. She must have been thinking the same thing, because she flung open the door before I could ring the bell.

 

“I was wondering when you were going to get here,” she said, pulling me inside and shutting the door. “Let’s go to the kitchen. I need to check on my pie.”

 

“Why do I get the feeling you’ve cooked and baked everything in the house?” I followed her down the hall and into the kitchen.

 

“Come on, you know me better than that.” She chuckled, as her hands flailed around in circles. The counters were filled with casserole dishes, pots, baking pans, saucepans and covered plates. The aromas made my stomach growl.

 

“Wow! Taylor must have really gotten to you,” I remarked, peeking beneath the various foil-covered dishes. I grabbed a serving spoon and a plate and dug into the chicken and dumplings on the stove. “How much of this can I take home?”

 

“All of it, if you help me through this,” she said, slipping on a mit and sliding the pie off the oven rack.

 

“You did not!” I exclaimed, realizing what kind of pie it was.

 

“Oh, you think I didn’t?” She passed the bubbling cherry pie under my nose, before sitting it on the tiled area of the counter.

 

“You know how much I heart cherry pie.”

 

“Exactly. And you’ll get a fresh slice as soon as you handle Mr. Taylor.”

 

I gave her a pointed stare. “Is there something I’m missing? If Taylor’s just here to dole out some loot, what’s the big deal?”

 

“Don’t you see what this could mean? What if Vincent is still around? Don’t you find it a little suspicious that he just disappeared?”

 

“Nope, it happens all the time. Poof”—I snapped my fingers—“just like that!”

 

“Well, maybe you’re accustomed to stuff like that, but I’m not. I’m a soap watcher, remember? They always come back.”

 

Starlet burst into laughter, and so did I.

 

“Girlfriend, this isn’t the soaps,” I said, trying to contain my laughter.

 

“Yeah, but you have to admit my life’s been nothing short of one for the past year or so.”

 

“All right, I’ll give you that, but I can’t imagine that Vincent would be stupid enough to show his face around here after what he put everybody through.”

 

“Not stupid enough? Hasn’t he proven his stupidity time and time again?”

 

I shrugged. “OK, put it this way. If he does, he’ll be sorry.”

 

“If you say so,” Starlet said, not sounding too convinced. She fixed me a glass of juice and slid it across the lunch counter to me. “So, what am I going to do about the money? Do you really think I should take it?”

 

“I can’t see why not. With all you’ve been through, you’ve earned it," I said sipping the juice. "Damn, this juice is good. What’s in it?”

 

“A special blend I made myself. What would I do with that kind of money?”

 

“Live.”

 

“Huh? I don’t follow.”

 

“You’d live. Stop worrying about shit and live.”

 

“I don’t know. I just feel like I’d always remember how Eric and I ended. When will I get past that? Or will I?”

 

I nodded over my glass, took a sip and set it down. “There’s no time like the present.”

 

“For what?”

 

“Getting over Eric and using the money to do something you’ve always wanted to do.”

 

Starlet grew quiet, the only sound the muted hum of the dishwasher. Finally, she looked at me. “What if—”

 

Just then the doorbell rang. A worried look crossed Starlet’s face as she walked slowly out of the kitchen. I gulped the rest of the juice, grabbed a piece of the red velvet cake already sliced on the counter and followed her.

 

The games were about to begin.