Below is an excerpt from The Storm and the Darkness, coming in July.
Mr. Jenkins lay on the table, still sleeping from his tumor surgery. His owner, Jessica McElroy, had left to get something to eat. She offered to get something for Jon as well, but he politely refused. It was past six already, and he was hungry, but he felt uncomfortable saying yes so it was silent starvation for him tonight unless Finn saved some leftovers.
Mr. Jenkins’ chest rose and fell as his body filled with each breath. Jon hadn’t thought the dog was going to make it, but everything went better than expected. It looked as if he would survive the night too, and maybe live to see his tenth year. Jon smiled in the darkness; a rare thing, and something almost always reserved just for moments like these, and for the little hairy beasts on his table.
Jessica returned an hour later. She had brought extra for him anyway, and left it in front of him even after his polite refusal. He ate in spite of himself. She ate in silence and he was grateful for it. He wasn’t sure why human interaction was so painful for him. He had friends growing up, and in college. In medical school, even, though he didn’t like to think about that time of his life. It might have been around then that he started to change and grow into himself more.
“I’ll be right back. I just need to call my husband,” she said before heading into the reception area. Everyone was so comfortable with each other on this island that no one bothered asking unimportant questions about whether it was okay to use someone’s phone or not. He both loved that and loathed it. Loved the quiet, loathed the familiarity.
No, that wasn’t entirely true. There was comfort in familiarity too. When you were familiar enough with someone, you understood them in ways others did not. People on the island understood that Jon was a good man, and a reliable man, but also knew that he wanted to be left alone. They didn’t question why he didn’t come to town events, or celebrations, or that he wasn’t yet married–or even in a relationship–at the age of thirty-three. They didn’t exactly understand it, but they accepted it. He was one of them, and “they” protected their own.
He remembered the exact day when Ana showed up because that’s when the panic attacks started back up. The day she arrived next door with her five suitcases (yes, he had counted), and her quiet look. In the evenings sometimes he would sit in his study, which faced east and her house. His heart leapt anytime she would walk into her foyer and close her door; a door she might think to come out of, and come over to introduce herself. He wanted her to stay on her side, much like he wanted the people on the mainland to stay on theirs.
She stood holding this dying cat, soaked from the rain, looking helpless. Had she shown up instead at his door at home with a basket of baked goods, he might have hid quietly until she went away. But she showed up at his office with a dying animal, and all he could do was silently take the creature from her trembling arms.
He said nothing as he took the small cat into the back, but he nearly jumped when, moments later, she had pushed through the door and was standing with her hands balled into fists at her side. She started rambling before he could say a word.
“Someone hit her with their truck. I watched them. I…I watched them, and watched them look back…and drive away,” she said. There were tears in her eyes, but she was trying to steady herself.
“Did you see the driver?” He asked without looking up.
“Yes…yes it was a man. Forties, maybe, big. He was driving an old red Ford pickup, and he had this bumper sticker that said-”
“My wife said I had to choose between her and fishing. I’m sure gonna miss her,” he finished for her.
“You know him?”
Unfortunately, they all knew Jim Sharp. With so few people on the island, and a drunken slob who went out of his way to cause problems for anyone smaller than him, he couldn’t exactly hide.
He worked in silence on the cat, as she paced the room, arms crossed. A few times she tried to say something but stopped, and he was grateful for it. The wounds were mostly superficial and looked worse than they actually were, so after he stitched her up, he told her he would take the cat home with him to keep an eye on him.
“You do that?” she asked. “What happens to her after that?”
“I’m not sure,” he said, even though he was. It wouldn’t be the first stray he brought home to keep an eye on and ended up adopting. “But she will live, because of you.”
“Not me,” she said, meeting his gaze for the first time. “You.”
He shrugged, but it still mattered to him when he could save a life, and when others could witness his gift.
“After this, maybe you’ll let me properly introduce myself finally,” she said after a pause, extending her hand. “Anasofiya Deschanel.”
He nodded and turned away, his heart racing, hating these moments where he knew he was supposed to do something, anything, even the smallest polite gesture. Why was he like this? The air grew cold between them as she realized he was being rude. Of course it seemed rude…but was he really capable of, or willing to, explain the details of his physiological make up to her, simply because he couldn’t return a handshake and an introduction?
“Alright, well I already know who you are, so I suppose introduction aren’t necessary,” she said, some of the warmth gone from her voice. “How much do I owe you?”
He felt bad. He did. But not bad enough to apologize. “Nothing,” he said, his back to her still. “You did the cat a favor.”
He felt her stiffen behind him, but the warmth was back. “I thank you again, Dr. St. Andrews. I’m sorry for any inconvenience. If you ever need anything, you know where I live.”
She lingered for a moment, waiting for a response. When he said nothing, she left.
This was a week ago.
“Sheriff Horn said you helped Ana today,” Finn had said that night. Finn had been drinking at the Thirsty Wench, and was home even later than Jon.
“Ana? Oh you mean the new girl.” Jon had pretended not to know who she was.
Finn gave him a side-eye glance. “Uh-huh. The new girl. You know, the one you are terrified of. The one who you watch in horror that she might come, god forbid, say hi and introduce herself. The one I’ve seen you watching me wave to in the evenings. The one people say you were actually rude to in public. The one with the pretty red hair. That new girl.”
Finn was the only one allowed to tease him about how he was, but it didn’t mean he liked it. “She won’t be here long enough for us to care one way or the other,” he grumbled.
“She’s nice. She has a lot of hair, but I didn’t notice any horns. We haven’t talked, but Alex didn’t mention a forked tongue or fangs. And she’s quiet…like you, you know.”
He had sensed that about her, but it didn’t change the fact that she had interrupted his efforts at seclusion. He realized that he didn’t really want Finn talking to her either, because if they hit it off, then he might have to see more of her. Jon was used to Finn’s girls, but only because he had known them his whole life, too. It wasn’t as if they ever lasted long either way.
“You know the cat was hers,” Finn said. “Kind of.”
Jon looked up, surprised. “Hers?”
“Well, a stray that had been hanging around her house. She’s been feeding it and made a bed on her porch for it. She even gave it a name. Cocoa, I think. Alex was talking about it tonight. I swear that codger is in love with her, the way he goes on and on about her…course that would be a first for him…Pa always said he was a eunuch…”
Jon barely heard the last of his brother’s ramblings, but the first part of what he had said took him off guard. Feeding a stray is something he would have done, so it would seem logical that her kindness would have warmed him to her a bit. But Jon’s feelings were not logical, and so instead he was simply annoyed that she had done something that he knew he should be giving her praise for. He also wondered if she would want to come visit Cocoa once she figured out Jon had adopted her.
No good deed ever goes unpunished.
Jon was still lost in his thoughts when Jessica returned from calling her husband. “Jackson said the storm is coming.”
Yes, he knew that. Finn told him. Finn had always had the gift of sense, and even Jon had to concede to that.
“You go home. I’ll keep an eye on Mr. Jenkins a while longer and he can spend the night at our house.”
“Thanks Jon,” she said, already pulling on her coat. Islanders may be used to storms, but there was no amount of pride in them that was bigger than their good sense. “If the roads are open, I’ll come by tomorrow to get him.”
“Either way,” he said. After she was gone, he surprised himself by wondering how Ana was getting on with the storm preparation. He shrugged off the thought.