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Hotter Horizons - Chapter 1
Chapter One

“Here, take it,” Jada said, forcefully pushing a wad of cash into her hand.

“No.” Fern shook her head. “It’s too much. You’ll need it to carry my end of the expenses.”

Jada grabbed her satchel, stuffing the cash inside.

“I’m working the last four shows,” Jada said, hand on hip. “Believe me ... I’ll be raking it in.” Jeff Foxworthy was performing his act at the casino where Jada worked, her last week being very lucrative.

Fern relented. She did need money. Jada was a cocktail waitress at the Mohican Sun Casino. She had a real knack for dealing with the public, not to mention her glamorous looks, which only added to her gift. The amount of cash the girl could earn in one night was sickening.

This drama-laden plan of escape was very sudden and unplanned. Fern had hit the wall. She was done with Johnny. After almost three years of dealing with his dysfunctional behavior, she was finally tapped out.

Being in a relationship with Johnny was like dealing with an entire street gang. His often violent, possessive behavior interfered with even daily life activities. If Fern even glanced in the direction of another man he thought she was interested. He was jealous and insecure. Johnny did have a soft side but its appearance was rare. He gave her no freedom of movement.

For Jada, Fern’s departure was a day of rejoicing, but it came with a price. Fern would now have to leave. Jada had been trying to get Fern to ditch Johnny ever since voice-activated email made its debut. Fern was going to suffer the most from this breakup, forcing  her to abruptly relocate and abandon all she knew, heading toward another horizon all on her own.

When would she be able to see Jada again? They’d been roommates forever. She wouldn’t miss her job at the Turnstile. She was tired of dealing with rowdy club-goers and loud music, and patrons like her ex. I’ve acquired the lifestyle I grew up despising.

Now she’d be forced to wander, just like her father had his entire life, never owning anything or putting down roots. “I don’t like things that hold me down,” had been her father’s famous words. Her mind scrambled back to Johnny and the reaction her absence would create.

You couldn’t just dump Johnny and stay in town. Fern had learned that the hard way. It would never work and hadn’t worked the numerous times Fern had tried to terminate the relationship.

Johnny would stalk and nag, tormenting her, feeding his guilt to her like a spoiled meal until she caved, unable to swallow another rotten mouthful. No. This time she’d have to leave and disappear, covering her tracks like windblown snow on a sidewalk. Panic wormed through her. What kind of crap would Jada have to deal with when Johnny came around looking for her?

“He’s eventually gonna show up here,” Fern told her.

Jada’s dark-brown eyes narrowed. “I know how to deal with him. Don’t worry about me.”

Jada sat down on her bed, releasing a hissing breath that blew the bleached-blond strands of hair out of her eyes, her brows furrowing.

“Where you gonna go?” she asked, her tone now hesitant, laced with a fear Fern didn’t want to feel.

“I haven’t gotten that far yet,” Fern told her, yanking open drawers, stuffing her knapsack.

“Fuck! I hate that son-of-a-bitch.”

“Yeah, he’s got a habit of provoking that in people.” Fern took one more glance around the tiny studio apartment. There was stuff she’d have to leave behind, for now. Jada met her thoughts.

“Maybe when you land and get settled, I can bring you the rest of your things,” Jada said, eyeing her small stereo, books, and CDs.

Fern sat down next to her, resting her hand on Jada’s thigh.

“Yeah.” She sighed, exhausted already. “I’ll call...” More words formed on her tongue, words better left unsaid.  

The traffic had picked up, the late-day rush hour kicking in.

Fern hiked toward the Wawa, thinking she’d get her last mocha latte. The whine of the train whistle caught her attention. Fern ran across the highway and bolted into the thickets, having missed the last bus out.

Colorful cars moved slowly behind the tall brush. She climbed up the steep bank, watching as the train clanked over the rails. It moved at a speed that was doable, enabling the crazed thought that was forming in her mind to take shape.

Fern sidestepped down the embankment, waiting. With the last car in sight, Fern gripped the hot paper cup, seeing the hot beverage slosh inside.

The oily smell of creosote burned her nose. Fern took two cautious sips, realizing she needed to toss her last indulgence into the weeds until she got to wherever she was going.

Fern threw the cup into the brush. As the last car rattled past, Fern stepped in behind it and started jogging, pacing her steps, watching the tarry pebbles and ashen dirt below pass beneath her feet. With the width of two feet, her adrenaline got the best of her. She hurled her knapsack into the car and quickened her pace, her decision made.

She gasped. Fern dragged in a rush of polluted smog and took that leap, a leap away from Johnny that would buy her more distance, and a leap into a new life that was frightening as hell, holding all the fears of the unknown. 

Copyright 2008 2013 - Justine C Szot
Email Justine at justine@jc-hotreads.com
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