Chapter 25 – Rachel Holbrook
Frank laughed as he and Michael touched their glasses of wine, toasting to “strange vacations.” Rachel sat with the two and Eliza in a booth as Hadley played on her phone two booths away. On the other side of the diner, Carter snored in his own booth, already passed out drunk. Matteo and Anthony were having a private conversation next to him. Probably the same conversation about God that Matteo had tried to have with Rachel the day before.
Rachel stared into her glass, not really in the mood to drink. She didn’t even want to be there, but she had a good enough reason to accept the invitation. It wasn’t that little line from Eliza about having a drink with the man who saved her life, either. She was grateful, sure. But, she had something more important to take care of: she needed a one-on-one with Eliza.
Hadley had been right when she’d said Eliza looked at her funny. In the few days they’d been there, Rachel and Hadley had come across Eliza a couple of times. And, every time, Eliza would smile at Hadley and give her this “knowing” look. It was like she understood something about Hadley that no one else did. Or, she had some sort of plan for her. Rachel needed to find out what it was about.
She might not be the most nurturing or understanding aunt, but Rachel knew how to be aggressive. She could at least defend Hadley from danger—even if she couldn’t save her from her sadness. Now, all she had to do was wait until the two could be alone.
“You be careful with my husband, Michael.” Eliza winked at him. “I don’t want to have to carry him home tonight.”
Frank leaned into her ear and whispered. Rachel could just barely make out the word, “tonight.” Eliza giggled and turned dark red in between the blinks into black.
They were so in love. Just like Rachel’s parents were. Just like her brother and his wife were. They were probably poor like her parents and brother, too. “Poor in money and rich in love,” her parents used to say to her. Thank God she never fell into that trap. True: coming home to an empty apartment and waking up next to nothing could be painful at times. But, what was the point of love when you’re always struggling to make ends meet? No, it was smarter to get a career and find love after you’ve established a good income. As for the loneliness… well, that would end soon enough. Just a couple more years, and she’d have everything she needed to start a family.
“I’m going to make some snacks,” Eliza said, bringing Rachel back into the moment. “Any requests?”
“I’m sure whatever you make will be fine, Darling.” Frank kissed Eliza’s hand as she maneuvered herself out of the booth. Eliza left.
“How do you do it, Frank?” Michael set down his glass and leaned to his side, resting his head on his hand and giving Rachel a better view of his muscles. They were definitely nice.
“How do you keep the romance going after so many years? And in a place like this?”
Frank took another sip. “That’s easy, Son. You find a woman you love that loves you back. And, you always remember that just because you have something, it doesn’t mean you can’t lose it. A man can never stop wooing his wife. After all, a woman wooed is a woman kept.”
Rachel didn’t want to listen to this. He sounded exactly like her father. Besides, she had more important things to tend to.
“I think I’ll go help Eliza in the kitchen.”
The two men tried to hide their shock and failed. Rachel would have confronted them on it, but she had someone else to confront now. Hadley was still playing on her phone, and Carter, Anthony, and Matteo were still on the other side of the diner. Perfect. It would be just her and Eliza.
She passed the bar and entered the kitchen. The smell coming from behind the blinking woman was divine. For a moment, Rachel forgot why she was there.
“What’s on your mind, Rachel?” She hadn’t looked back.
“How did you know it was me?”
“Oh, I’m slowly starting to recognize everyone’s signature.” Eliza continued moving things around the pan in front of her. “Remember, I’m the psychic that brought me and Frank here.”
“Right. Well, we need to talk.” Rachel balled her fists.
“About Hadley. And the way you keep looking at her.”
Eliza stopped moving her spatula and stayed still. But, she didn’t respond. Rachel wasn’t going to let her ignore her.
“Why do you keep looking at her like that? What is it you have planned? What do you want from her?”
Rachel waited. Eliza remained frozen in place, her back turned to Rachel. What was she thinking? Would she snap and turn into one of those monsters?
“Hadley… is a very special girl.” She didn’t turn around.
What was that supposed to mean?
“I know she is. Now, answer my question.”
Eliza sighed. “She feels things very deeply. She sees the world differently than other people do.”
“What’s your point?”
Eliza finally turned to face Rachel. Between the blinks, her face was stern. “The point, Dear, is that not many people will be able to understand her. She won’t even be able to understand herself for some time.”
Rachel stayed quiet. It was true. Rachel couldn’t understand Hadley. Her eyes—the same eyes Rachel’s brother had—were unfathomable. Rachel had been around eyes like that her entire life, and she still couldn’t comprehend what was behind them.
“I know what it’s like to feel so deeply,” Eliza continued. “I know what it’s like to be unable to understand.” She paused. “But, I understand now. And, I can promise you one thing: I would never hurt that little girl. I’ll protect her with my life if I have to.”
Rachel couldn’t speak. Was she telling the truth? Maybe. Or, maybe it was all just an elaborate lie to get Rachel to let her guard down.
A thunderous howl sounded around them—more like a gorilla than a man. Eliza dropped her spatula and ran out of the kitchen. Rachel followed.
Hadley had hidden herself under the table. The men were already looking out the front window. Rachel told Hadley to stay where she was and went to the window next to Michael.
Six. Six of the Empty People heaving on the other side of the road.
“No,” Frank said as he slammed his fist on the sill. “It’s too soon. Much too soon.”
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