A Night at the Beach: A Suspense Short Story

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
At that very moment, Miley felt a sharp shiver of fear. Suddenly, the modest beach house she was in seemed far too large and frighteningly rambling, with untold rooms, long hallways and dark corners. Inexplicably, she felt unsafe. Spending the night alone at this beach house in California struck intense dread into 20-something Miley Smith's heart. But it shouldn’t, she scolded herself. Why, she’d had to face plenty of nights alone during her new marriage to Daniel, a rising Advertising Executive. After all, he traveled quite a bit in order to meet with clients. But having a solitary night in her beautiful home in South Carolina was a world away from spending the night alone here tonight, at this seemingly harmless, rented two-story beach house.

Submitted: February 17, 2012

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Submitted: February 17, 2012

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altA Night at the Beach House

Preview: But, suddenly, the cat stood up, let out a shrieking howl and took flight. Miley ran the rest of the way to the door, and opened it just as the cat was making its speedy way to the bottom of the stairs. Watching the frightened feline run off down the empty beach, Miley couldn’t help but feel confused. She also experienced a more acute sense of loneliness than she’d had before the stray creature had arrived.

A few butterflies were working on her stomach. What had scared the cat away...?

Preview: Taking a deep breath, the young woman plunged down the stairs to the basement, her sandaled feet moving at breakneck pace and clattering loudly.

Careful, she thought. The last thing she'd need is to fall down the stairs and then be stuck in the basement all night. Maybe longer. The thought was nothing less than terrifying.

Slowing her pace, she arrived at the freezer and then yanked on the freezer door. It was stuck. It had been heavy and unwieldy since the day they'd moved in. She'd asked Daniel to get a new one. He told her it was on their list of expenditures; they just hadn't gotten around to it.

Now, I know I'm going to talk to Daniel about this freezer again, she complained inwardly, as, putting the steaks down on a nearby table, she yanked on the stubborn freezer door a second time. It still wouldn't budge.

Just then, the door at the top of the basement stairs slammed shut.

Miley jumped a foot into the air. "Oh, my God," she breathed.

Chapter One

Her day at the beach today, with the blazing, hot sun standing high in the summery cornflower blue sky, had been wonderful.

Actually, it had been more than that. It had been superb.

“You can’t do better than that, Mrs. Miley Smith,” the beautiful young woman said softly to herself, smiling and brushing her long, dark blonde hair from her face with her slender fingers, one of which bore a large, impeccable diamond wedding ring.

A superb day at the beach.

The only thing that could possibly outdo that was a superb night at the beach. With her great-looking husband, Daniel, of course. Mrs. Miley Smith smiled even more at the thought of her brand new husband. The 20-something couple had been joined in matrimony barely two months ago. And, already, she missed him everyday when he got up early, dressed, and went off to slay the dragons in the advertising world. He was McCann & McCann’s brightest rising star. And she was thrilled to call him hers.

Sprinting after and picking up her oversized beach towel, which had been blown across the sand by the persistent trade winds, Miley stole a brief look up at the house, the one her sweet husband had rented for the two of them on this glorious beach. It was fairly plain. But, she found herself actually enjoying the comfort of the two-story modest house with its balconies which offered to-die-for views of the even more to-die-for ocean. It also had a large fireplace in the living room for the two lovebirds to cozy up to on those surprisingly cool summer nights. She was glad to be here. In this house.

They had a much bigger, far more permanent home, a gorgeous Tudor mini-mansion, back in Charlottesville, South Carolina. But “Handsome Husband” had persuaded “Beautiful Bride” (affectionate names they used for each other) to follow him to Southern California, where he would be for the next few months, working on several important advertising accounts. His reasoning was that he’d be able to see her far more often if she were close by, rather than trying to steal red-eye flights to and from the two coasts over frantically rushed weekends.

She loved his reasoning. In fact, she loved everything about him. “Hey, get a hold of yourself, Kiddo,” she gently scolded herself, being suddenly reminded that dinner was only a little more than three hours away.

And she had planned to make it something special. For just the two of them.

Miley pinched herself and giggled. She was not only a happily, no, ecstatically married woman, she was also strolling along a perfect beach in glamorous Southern California.

She could hardly believe it. Was she lucky – or what?!

Just a year ago, she was a lonely, bereft young woman. She’d just lost her father to cancer and was so devastated by the emotional hurricane that had hit her, she’d actually lost her entry-level secretarial job at a successful law office. But she hadn’t cared much about that job after the way they’d treated her.

If they couldn’t show understanding, empathy, and a little patience for a young woman who had loved her father with all of her heart, then that company didn’t deserve to have her on staff anyway. That was her thinking. Prior to Mr. Paul’s unexpected death, Miles had devotedly worked her fingers to the bone, for long hours, and at low wages. Perhaps they’d been so accustomed to her high-level of work, they were more disappointed than they would have been had she never sacrificed her young life for that firm of driven, insensitive attorneys.

“Oh, well, the past is past. Thank God.” She actually said the words aloud, although quietly, to prove that, once again, she had definitely put the hard times behind her.

The future looked like calm seas to her.

And she wanted to cherish every moment. She grinned to herself.

It was a good day to be Mrs. Miley Smith.

Steaks, I need to take the steaks out of the freezer, she suddenly thought, awakening from her sweet revelry, as she picked up her pace in returning home. Once there, she walked up the one-story outdoor staircase to the balcony. Before entering through the sliding glass door on the ocean side, she turned and wiped off the sand from her wet feet. Then, she breathed in, very deeply, the rarified, salty air.

It was all so unreal. So incredibly fantastic.

And, to add to all of this, I am deeply in love, she exulted. What more could I possibly want? Except more days of the same.

Now, that’s when you really know you’re happy, she mused. When you just want to keep living the life you already have.

And, boy, am I happy. Very, very happy.

With that, Mrs. Miley Smith went into her home overlooking the gorgeous beach to cook an unforgettable dinner for the love of her life, her husband.

***

Back in the kitchen, Miley walked briefly down the indoor stairs to the basement, where the ample-sized freezer resided. Opening the heavy door to the deep freeze, she reached in and pulled out two large, lovely steaks, then closed the door. Her sandals clickety-clacking on the steps as she hurriedly returned upstairs, she breathed a sigh of relief as she closed the basement door.

Thank God she wasn’t staying here alone at night. It would be too frightening. Just having Daniel at home every night eased any minor discomfort she was feeling about living in this isolated of a location. Their closest neighbors were easily a mile south on the beach.

Back in South Carolina, the neighbors were close, warm and friendly, dropping over for morning tea, coffee cake and comfortable conversation. Here, however, having recently arrived and still settling in, she’d yet to meet the relatively few people living in this new, largely undeveloped subdivision.

But, today, instead of going down the road to try to strike up a neighborly connection, Miles had allowed herself the luxury of spending the morning and early afternoon on the beach with a picnic basket full of freshly-cut fruit, slices of cheddar cheese and exquisite Parisian crackers.

She’d also carried a quarter of a bottle of fine wine and a single wine glass to her spot on the white sands. It had been heavenly.

Tomorrow, she told herself, she would take a tasty, homemade cherry pie to the nearest house to see if she could meet the neighbors.

It’s always good to know the people living closest to you. You never know when you might need them in an emergency.

The unexpected thought sent an involuntary shiver up her spine.

Why was she reacting this way? she silently quizzed herself. It was broad daylight, there wasn’t a cloud in the endlessly blue skies – and her husband would be home soon. To a fantastic dinner.

Speaking of dinner, she reminded herself that it would be a good idea to go ahead and start making the crisp green salad and vinegar-marinated cucumbers. They could be easily stored in the refrigerator while the rest of dinner was being prepared. It would be at least a couple of hours before the steaks were defrosted enough to be put under the broiler. Daniel especially appreciated an expertly-cooked steak.

He’s going to love this dinner, she thought, anticipating the excitement of seeing his handsome face light up when he smelled the unmistakable and irresistible aromas.

She stole a look at the clock. 3:20. Usually, Daniel arrived at their beach house around 6:00 p.m., if not a little earlier. Only once had he come home late, around 6:40. It had mildly jangled her nerves to have him out on the roads when he should have been safely at home and in her arms. But the sun had still been up. And, after all, he had called from the office to say he would be getting home a little later than usual.

“So, if everything goes as planned, my Handsome Husband should be walking through the front door in exactly two hours and 40 minutes,” she reassured herself.

For some inexplicable reason, Miley was feeling a little anxious. The completely relaxed feeling she’d leisurely basked in on the beach was starting to dissipate, little by little.

But she wasn’t sure why.

Her mother had often told Miley that she possessed “second sight,” an ability to sense things before they actually happened.

Again, she shivered. Inexplicably.

What was she keyed up about, anyway…?

Just then, a loud noise shattered the silence and Miley jumped instantly in surprise. She reeled around, looked out the sliding glass door, and saw the source of the sound. It was just a pitiful little stray cat, looking like it wanted to come inside to be comforted.

“Oh, my God,” Miley uttered, still stunned by the unexpected interruption. She put a shaky hand to her throat.

“Dear me, aren’t I on edge?!” Then, straightening her back, her chin raised, she told herself, “I’m just being ridiculous. Get it together, Miley. Besides, Daniel will be home soon.”

With that, she felt suddenly better. And she walked towards the sliding door as the cat, sitting outside, mewed loudly and peered through the thick glass at her. She wanted to bring the cat in and feed it.

Poor dear, little thing, she thought, with a sharp pang of sympathy, as she approached the sliding glass door.

However, suddenly, inexplicably, the cat stood up, let out a shrill howl and took flight. Miley ran the rest of the way to the door, and opened it just as the cat was making its speedy way to the bottom of the stairs. Watching the frightened feline run off down the empty beach, Miley couldn’t help but feel confused. She also experienced a more acute sense of loneliness than she’d had before the stray creature had arrived.

A few butterflies were working on her stomach. What had scared the cat away...?

Surely it couldn’t have been…me?! she thought, uneasily, suddenly helpless. That old bereft feeling was starting to wend its wiley way into her heart.

And, here she’d had a totally perfect day at the beach.

She lingered on the balcony, breathing in the ocean air, watching the waves move methodically, with spectacular ease, almost joyfully, towards the beach where they lost themselves, blending seamlessly in with the relentless and powerful foaming tide. She imagined that it felt a lot like death.

Miley thought about how lost she felt in that very moment.

A hand went into her blonde hair, as continuing to be a solitary witness to each and every wave, she allowed uncertain feelings to wash over her. Why was she feeling this way? What was happening to her? Was it the sand, the rocks, or the waves that died so gracefully on the beach once they were earthbound?

She felt like she was standing on the edge of something – but what?!

“Boy, I definitely need to shake this off,” Miley said to herself, purposely stomping one foot, determined to instill a keen sense of reality in this, this otherworldly…world. It was like she was hypnotized by its mysterious, unfathomable beauty, not really knowing what lay ahead.

What had happened to her future of smooth sailing…? The future she’d seen on the beach today, the one with all those calm seas???

Miley unconsciously shook her head slowly from side to side, not completely aware of what she was doing.

Just when I thought I had it all together, here I am falling apart. That thought and others equally disturbing floated unbidden into her mind, as, standing there, she meditated on the ocean and its predictably unpredictable ways.

Miley was entranced.

And she felt helpless to end the spell.

***

Miley didn’t know how long she’d stayed on that deck, with the sliding glass door left open and staring at the unknowable sea. For some reason, it now seemed to make her feel sad. Earlier today, with the sun high in the western sky, she’d felt confident, playful, happy, even carefree. Now, she felt completely opposite of that nice, warm, comforting feeling.

The breeze had picked up and it seemed to be getting cooler by the second.

Turning around, she looked towards the east. The sky was much darker on that horizon. It looked like a storm could be brewing.

Perhaps a dense wet fog.

Whatever it was, she didn’t like it. “Don’t rain on my parade.” She said the words aloud, remembering one of her mother’s favorite phrases. Just the thought of her dear, sweet mother brought a grin to her lovely face. Mom was completely and utterly enjoying herself with her new husband in the Virgin Islands. She wouldn’t be back to her home in Charlottesville until late next week.

We both have new husbands, Miley grinned, shrugging her slender shoulders.

“Oh, I am just being ridiculous, totally ridiculous,” she said to herself, reassuringly. Her Handsome Husband would soon be home. And all would be well.

Then, the phone rang. Oh, I bet it’s Daniel, she thought, as she hurried to the shrill phone, mindlessly leaving the sliding glass door open again. It’s gotta be him. She was suddenly happy, but there was a certain edge to that gleeful feeling. She continued her brief inner dialogue as she closed in on the pestering phone. Daniel’s one of only a few people who have our home phone number. Or, it might be my bud, Stacy. I bet she’s still on the East Coast.

Miley picked up the phone, cradling it in her hands, as she looked out the window. The sky was growing darker by the moment. She noticed that the palm trees on the beach were starting to sway more with the increasing winds.

“Hello?” She actually said it with a slight quiver, a question mark in her voice.

“Hi, Honey, it’s Daniel.”

“Oh, I thought it might be you. So good to hear your voice, Dear.”

She pulled the receiver even closer to her ear, as though, by doing so, she could get closer to him that way.

“Listen, Hon, I’m not sure if you know this, but a heavy blanket of fog is moving in tonight. You might have heard it on the radio or –“

She cut in, her stomach starting to feel a little uneasy. “Yes, I’ve been watching the skies and they are looking more stormy. The wind’s been picking up. I spent a lovely day on the beach and it was sunny then. But just in the last couple of hours, it’s –“

“I know, Hon. We’ve been sitting here at the office listening to the weather forecast on the radio for the last 10 minutes.”

He paused, meaningfully.

Uh-oh. It was her first thought.

“Listen, Honey, there’s no way I can drive through this tonight –“

“Oh, no – I - I…“ Her stomach wrenched.

“Believe me, I know, Hon. I do. I didn’t want this to happen, either, but the fog is predicted to be too dense. The visibility is going to be down to almost zero. I hate to tell you this, Hon, really I do, but I simply can’t make it home tonight.”

Now, her heart completely fell.

A night here on the beach. Alone. Without Daniel.

And she was already feeling apprehensive.

His sympathetic voice interrupted her fearful thoughts. “Listen, I have an idea. Why don’t you go on over to the Millers? That way, you won’t be alone. I know how much you hate the idea of spending the night there by yourself.”

Her fingers were nervously wrapping the long phone cord around one hand.

It was an idea. The Millers lived only 20 minutes away in a more populated section of the beach. Jason Miller was another ad executive at the agency where Miley’s Handsome Husband worked.

“Listen, I know that Jason is out of town right now. But his wife, Mabel, is still here – at home. Let me give you her phone number. Why don’t you call her now and then drive yourself over to her house? That way, you two ladies can be together and comfort each other through this terrible night. Maybe with a scotch or two.” He laughed shortly, a little anxiously, to ease the tension in the conversation.

“Well, yes, I could definitely do that. It would make me feel so much better. What’s the number?”

As she took down the number, that uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach started to go away. Great, there was a solution. A workable one. And Daniel was sure to come home tomorrow night. She breathed an audible sigh of relief.

“Honey, I can tell you’re feeling better about things now. Go ahead, call her right now. Do it before it’s too dark and the weather gets worse.” He paused just for a second.

This was all going to work out just fine, Miley thought. She was happy again.

Her Handsome Husband was still talking. “And, Honey, please call me back immediately and let me know that you’ll be spending the night at her house tonight. OK? Promise…?”

“I promise. Oh, I am so glad. This will be just fine. I’ll miss you tonight, though.” As an afterthought, she said, “By the way, where are you going to spend the night?”

“The ad agency has an account at the Hampton Motel, just down the street. I stayed at the same hotel chain in Chicago, so I know it’s pretty nice. Comfy beds. Great room service and restaurant menu. And, I’m so tired, I know I’ll sleep like a log. I hope you do, too, Hon. Safe and sound.”

“Oh, I will. Don’t worry, Dear. I’ll call Mabel right now. Then I’ll call you right back there at the office.”

“OK, great. I’ll be here.”

Miley hung up the phone and then dialed Mabel on the rotary phone. Her breathing had slowed, a secure feeling growing like warm embers in her stomach.

The sun was still blazing in its corner in the California sky. But, the skies were filling with clouds. Dark clouds. And the trees were starting to dance a little more wildly than they had even 15 minutes earlier. I can’t wait to get to the Millers’, she thought.

Then, the thought struck her: this is why I wasn’t feeling so great late this afternoon. My intuition was telling me something was off.

The phone was still ringing Mabel’s line. Miley sat on one of the high bar stools, leaning over, and slowly drumming her fingers on the kitchen counter. Four rings.

The fifth ring. No answer so far.

A sharp wind picked up just then and loudly rattled the two windows in the living room. She jumped.

Boy, am I glad I’m not going to be here by myself tonight.

Seven rings now. What if Mabel wasn’t in town either? It was a dreadful thought, but one that came to Miley's mind nevertheless. Since her husband, Jason, was gone, maybe Mabel had decided – even at the last minute - to leave town, too...?

The disturbing thoughts were just starting to upset Miley when, finally, an-out-of-breath Mabel picked up. Miley’s heart took a joyful leap.

“He-llo? He-llo!” Mabel said, sounding like she’d just run a marathon.

“Oh, Mabel, my name is Miley. I’m Daniel’s wife. You know, Daniel Smith who works at the ad agency with your husband, Jason?”

There was a momentary pause as the woman on the other end of the phone quickly digested the details, all the while breathing laboriously. “Oh - oh, yes. Let me catch my breath – just for a second.” Miley waited patiently while the other woman calmed down and her breathing regained more normalcy.

“OK – there! I’m so sorry, but I was down on the beach, quite a ways from the house, when I suddenly heard the phone start ringing. I wanted to get to the phone before the caller hung up so I sprinted hard and fast.” She paused again for another moment. Then, she took a big breath, let it out, and laughed loudly.

“Oh, dear me, so this is how you meet me for the first time!” She laughed heartily again. She apparently had a good sense of humor. Miley liked this woman, who seemed like she could poke fun at herself.

Not everyone can do that, Miley mused, briefly philosophical. Jason was a lucky man.

“OK, so let’s start over. You’re Daniel’s wife. Now, I’m getting my bearings. Actually, Jason has mentioned your husband and his great work ethic more than once. I feel like I already know you. So…Hi, Miley!”

Now, Miley really liked this Mabel. She was warm and kind.

“Oh, hi, Mabel!” Miley laughed a little now, as well. She could relax. It was all going to be fine. “Well, I am so glad to meet you, too! Daniel has had many words of praise for your Jason. Apparently, the two of them work well together.”

“Yes, apparently! Well, to what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call? Especially at this time. You know a storm is blowing in. Have you heard?”

This was going far better than Miley could have imagined. Before long, she would be safely ensconced at Mabel’s place and they’d both be sipping a stiff brandy and laughing hysterically over something ridiculously funny. Miley loved to laugh. And Mabel definitely looked like the kind of woman who could laugh, long and hard.

“Why, yes, Mabel. Actually, that’s the reason I called you. Daniel phoned me and said he won’t be able to drive home tonight in this heavy fog. He came up with the idea that perhaps – perhaps I could stay at your place tonight. He thought that with Jason out of town, you might want some company, too.”

Miley paused to await a response. To her disappointment, it didn’t come as quickly or as easily as she’d hoped.

“Well – well, sure, I-I-I don’t think that would be a pro-blem.” Mabel drew out the last word like she was still considering the question, although she’d already answered it.

Miley let out a huge sigh of relief, taking care to cover the phone receiver with her hand.

Her new friend seemed to be warming to the idea. “Sure, why not, well - why the hell not?!” Then she let out one of her outrageous giggles. Miley giggled, too. She was exuberant.

For some reason, spending the night alone at a beach house in California struck intense dread into Miley’s heart. But it shouldn’t, she scolded herself now. She was being silly. Why, she’d spent plenty of nights alone during her new marriage to Daniel. After all, he traveled quite a bit for his profession as an advertising account executive in order to meet with clients.

But spending the night alone in her beautiful home in South Carolina was a world away from spending the night alone here, at this modest, seemingly harmless, two-story beach house.

For one thing, her other home was located close to other people. She seemed lost in this isolated house on the endless beach here in sunny California. Miley realized now that she sometimes felt like the ocean itself would simply swallow her up.

Nice, macabre thoughts to start off the evening with, Miley, she silently reprimanded herself.

“OK, it’s set, then. Thank you so much, Mabel. You have no idea how relieved I am to be coming over! What would be a good time for you?”

“Honey, the sooner the better, judging from how the skies are looking. Get in your car and drive on over right now. After you pack an overnight bag, that is. Do you know how to get here?”

Mabel proceeded to give Miley precise directions. It should be fairly easy for her to get there.

“Great, thanks again, Mabel! I need to call Daniel right now and let him know about my plans. He’s waiting for me to call him back at the office. I’ll see you in a short time!”

Miley’s heart quickened with a deep sense of gratitude as she hung up the phone. She paused for a moment, looked heavenward and said, “Thank God!” Then she picked up the phone again and dialed the number for her husband’s office.

Daniel picked up on the second ring, indicating he’d been close by the phone, impatiently waiting for her call.

“Hi Dear, it’s me, Miley.”

“Yes, yes, I know! Are you going over to Mabel’s then?” He was insistent and quite concerned. She could hear it in his voice.

“Oh, yes, I am, Daniel. I am so glad you thought of it!”

Daniel breathed a deep sigh of relief, just as Miley had minutes ago when Mabel had accepted her offer of coming over for the night. Then, in unison, they both broke into a relieved gale of giggles.

“Boy, we sure are being ridiculous about all of this, aren’t we, Miley?” He asked, amidst his hearty laughs. She joined in with her own good-natured gaffaws, but deep inside, she knew that all of this was really quite serious to her. She’d read the newspapers, the horrifying stories of women who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She didn’t feel safe enough to be alone at that beach house, which was simply too isolated in her opinion, to risk any of that. Especially not in the midst of a heavy fog.

Even for one night.

Miley stopped laughing, but kept a smile in her voice. “OK, Dear, I have to get off the phone now to go pack a few things for Mabel’s. I’ll call you once I get there. Can I have the number of your room at the hotel?”

He gave the number to her, both of them exchanged endearing kisses, and reluctantly hung up, two sweethearts separated by the encroaching heavy fog.

***

After turning a worried eye to one of the eastern windows, which disclosed an ever-darkening sky, Miley hurried, with great purpose, into the bedroom to pack a few essentials for the overnight stay tonight. Tooth paste, tooth brush, hairbrush, a flannel nightgown, a pair of wooley socks to wear to bed, along with a terrycloth robe and a change of casual clothes for tomorrow.

“That should do it, Miley,” she said aloud. She found that she often talked to herself when she was feeling particularly keyed up. She paused for a moment, putting her hands on her nicely-shaped, slender hips. “And I shouldn’t be keyed up at all. Here I am,on my way to a safe place to stay with a kind, sweet woman.”

But that keyed up feeling persisted.

So Miley simply increased her speed at making sure all was in order before she left the house.

Oh, the steaks! she reminded herself. Running into the kitchen, she grabbed them. They were still in the process of defrosting. Now, what should she do with them? she silently quizzed herself. If she put them in the refrigerator, they would continue thawing. But what if this dang storm lasted for a few days, she thought, then these expensive steaks would probably go to waste.

"Well, there's nothing more to it, I just have to take them back to the freezer." The thought of having to go back down to the basement, while the skies were growing darker, literally by the moment, was unsettling to her, to say the least. But it had to be done.

Miley walked over to the basement door, opened it, noticing that it creaked on its hinges. Great. That makes me feel just great, she grimaced. It was a one-story flight of stairs down to the freezer and one story back. She could do it in record time, if she got a move on it.

Taking a deep breath, the young woman plunged down the stairs, her sandaled feet moving at breakneck pace and clattering loudly.

Careful, she thought. The last thing she'd need is to fall down the stairs and then be stuck in the basement all night. Maybe longer. The thought was nothing less than terrifying.

Slowing her pace, she arrived at the freezer, still intact, and then yanked on the freezer door. It was stuck. It had been heavy and unwieldy since the day they'd moved in. She'd asked Daniel to get a new one. He told her it was on their list of expenditures; they just hadn't gotten around to it.

Now, I know I'm going to talk to Daniel about this freezer again, she complained inwardly, as, putting the steaks down on a nearby table, she yanked on the stubborn freezer door a second time. It still wouldn't budge.

Just then, the door at the top of the basement stairs slammed shut.

Miles jumped a foot into the air.

"Oh, my God!" Now, she was really frightened. All sorts of terrifying thoughts ran through her mind. Her heart was racing so much, it was pounding out of her chest.

What if someone had come into the house and was trapping her in the basement???!

She quickly remembered that she'd foolishly left the sliding glass door open. How stupid of me!

"OK, get a hold of yourself, Miley," she said withforced patience, trying desperately to calm herself down.

Then, a reassuring idea occured to her. The door may have simply slammed because, with the doors and windows in the house wide open, the wind may have picked up enough to whip it shut. After all, a storm was on the way.

"Dear God," she whispered fervently, "Please let that be the answer."

She stopped and listened. There were no sounds of footsteps, no creaking of the floorboards. Only silence.

If she strained just enough, she could actually hear the wind outside. It was definitely gathering strength.

Damn the steaks, she thought, picking them up from the small table, I'll just put them in the refrigerator. WIth that decision made, she knew it was time to quietly tackle the stairs.

Moving towards the bottom step, she gingerly positioned a foot on it and then, after testing it for a moment or two, slowly put her full weight on it. No sounds, upstairs or downstairs. She did the same thing with the next step. Then the next. And the next. Slowly, she made her way back up the staircase.

Now it was time for the basement door.

She put an unsteady hand on it, her heart in her throat. She paused several seconds to put an ear to the door. Again, only silence, partially broken by the wind singing its low, sad song.

Gathering all of her courage, she twisted the door knob and threw the door open as fast as she could, in one seamless movement.

The door opened. No one was standing in her way and it looked like she'd made it out of the basement alive after all.

Boy, do I need a drink, Miley told herself. She was so overwrought that she just stood where she was, taking in one heaving breath after another.

I've gotta get outta here.

It was her next thought.

Immediately galvanized, she started moving quickly through the house to make sure all the windows were closed and all three doors, including the sliding glass one, were securely closed. And locked.

When one lived on the beach, she now realized, the doors tended to stay open, inviting sweet, refreshing breezes in from the beach.

Well, no more of that from now on, she insisted to herself.

The beach, she thought, almost absentmindedly.

It’s the beach that’s bothering me.

It was a sudden, and surprising, thought. But one that she didn’t have time to indulge, as she firmly closed the front door to the house and rushed towards the car, an anxious eye on the threatening skies. Her kind husband had left her the car, as he usually did, getting his ride into town with the help of a small company car pool.

Starting up the burgundy-colored Mercury, which had never given her any trouble, Miley was more than relieved to see that it wasn’t going to be a problem now, either. Boy, that’s the last thing I need, she thought, and she breathed a little more easily hearing the easy purr of the engine.

Expertly shifting the car into reverse, Miley applied a bit of pressure to the accelerator and the two-door sedan dutifully moved out of their driveway. Before she shifted into drive, however, she took a moment to look up, and then down the empty street they lived on.

No one in sight, either way. Her heart still beating at a quickened pace, the young woman noticed how very isolated their house really was. Even during the day.

No wonder I don’t feel good about being here tonight. The very thought of it sent a sharp chill up her youthful spine. For some inexplicable reason, her nerves still felt jangled. She hoped to heaven that it wasn’t a preview of things to come. She needed for this night to be peaceful.

And safe.

Driving down the road, Miley was lost in her own thoughts. But, before she knew it,she was pulling into Mabel Miller’s two-car driveway. Yes, there were far more houses in this nicely developed, upper middle class residential area on the beach. Thank God, she thought, breathing her last sigh of relief, she hoped.

From now on, the night should go well.

Miley got out of the car with her one lightly-packed overnight bag. She paused for a moment, caught her breath and looked up at the Miller’s home. It was definitely well cared for. A one-story red brick home, it had white trim and stretched back further to a deeper back yard than Miley had guessed when she first saw the house. Some homes actually look small from the street, she reasoned, but once inside, you find them to be rambling and large.

This house appeared to be just that. Rambling and large.

And hospitable. The smiling, slightly overweight and perky owner of the house came bounding out the white front door to give her new visitor – and overnight guest – a big, welcoming hug.

“Greetings, Miley! I’m so glad you made it. Did you have any trouble finding the place?!”

Miley swung her one bag confidently up over one shoulder, feeling suddenly relaxed. She laughed and followed her new friend into her rambling house on the expansive beach.

“No, not at all. Your directions were great. Just perfect.”

She laughed again, happy to be here. She felt like she was back in high school again, when she'd stay overnight at a girlfriend’s house, talking deep into the night about guys they had crushes on. That gnawing uneasy feeling was starting to dissipate again.

On the outside, the Miller house looked pretty normal.

On the inside, it was a beauty. Not only was this comfortable, but classy, home well-tended, but a professional decorator had definitely been given a free hand here. The rich hues of vibrant ocean blues, sea greens, and an accent of gold blended and contrasted perfectly in balance with each other.

And, Miley loved the gorgeous hardwood floors that stretched flawlessly underfoot from the front door to the kitchen, and beyond, as far as she could see.

“I love your home, Mabel. I really do! Of course, I’ve always been an ardent fan of beautiful hardwood floorings.” Miley turned her head, looking from left to right and back again, noticing well-placed medium-sized turquoise area rugs, as she talked and moved her hands enthusiastically, marveling at the artful domestic beauty.

It was true joy to see.

She always picked up new ideas – or at least became inspired - by something she saw when she visited other nicely-decorated homes. She tucked away a new idea for the front room of her permanent Tudor-style home in South Carolina, as she continued to look around, feeling more comfortable by the second.

Her gracious, but informal and bubbly, hostess was entirely warm and hospitable. Miley felt like she’d known Mable Miller all of her life. She guessed her to be somewhat older, maybe mid- to late-30s.

She and Jason had been married for quite some time. Apparently, happily. Their home was a silent witness to a life full of companionable peace and tranquility.

Just then, the winds picked up, vigorously tossing the trees and plants outside the windows to and fro. A sudden chill hit Miley’s stomach.

“Ooo – I just don’t like storms.” She put down her bag and rubbed her arms with her hands, trying to warm them up and reassure herself.

Mabel was decidedly more confident, waving a flippant hand. “Oh, Sweetie, don’t worry. I’ve lived here on the beach for all of my married life and storms like these, complete with fog, come now and then. But they quickly pass.” With that, she turned on a sandaled heel and headed for the wet bar.

“But, to put you at ease, why not a scotch or bourbon on the rocks? Or perhaps a Margarita?” She raised an expectant eyebrow, awaiting the other woman’s response.

Because there was a moment’s hesitation and she sensed Miley’s anxiety, Mabel pressed on, hoping to instill a bit of faith in the younger woman.

“No, really, Sweetie, it's no problem. I actually mixed up a small pitcher of margaritas while you were on your way over tonight. Do you want to try one…maybe…?” She was smiling, and watching Miley closely, trying to gauge her visitor’s mood.

Self-consciously, Miley put a hand into her hair, biting her lip nervously. “Oh, no, actually that sounds great. The only reason I’m hesitating is that I’ve already had two glasses of wine today, while I was sunning on the beach. You see, I’m not used to drinking much and I –“

“Oh, so that’s your concern.” Mable threw her head back and laughed gaily. “Don’t worry, Sweetie. I made the margaritas mild just in case you’re not a drinker. I can promise you that having a sip or two tonight will do you no harm. In fact, it’ll relax you. Come on, let’s go into the kitchen and get started on those margaritas.”

She jerked her head in the direction of the refrigerator and Miley followed along like an obedient puppy. She really liked this woman. She really liked this home.

She was so glad to be here.

Miley was more than a little ready for a margarita.

Bring it on, she thought, and she stepped into Mabel’s charming kitchen with the hardwood floors.

***

“Hey, Sweetie, sit over here,” Mabel said as she pulled out a high bar stool. Miley happily plunked herself down and looked around the cozy kitchen. She noticed that it opened onto a TV room, decorated mostly with two eggplant-colored lazy-boy chairs and one small sofa, all strewn with several ocean blue throw pillows. This room, in turn, opened onto an outside porch, its sliding glass door still standing open. The porch, with its lawn chairs, opened onto a lushly populated garden, filled with tallish native trees and wildly flowering plant life, including one of Miley’s favorites: Birds of Paradise. The garden, in turn, ran down to the beach, which, of course, ran down to the ocean. Everywhere, there were bunches of verdant green, with the over-sized potted plants indoors and the rampant nature outdoors.

Miley was again impressed. It was like the untamable blue-green ocean had become part of their home décor.

She turned back to the kitchen. Mable was just now pulling the pitcher of margaritas out of the refrigerator. Miley heard the tinkling of the small ice cubes against the side of the finely-cut crystal pitcher. Everything here was so…beautiful. Again, she marveled. Apparently, Jason Smith had been a successful ad agency executive for a long time. This sort of home décor wasn’t accomplished overnight. It had an ease to it, like each object was in its right place – and knew it.

“There, now, let me grab a couple of glasses and we’ll be on our way to ‘Margaritaville,’” Mabel joked. Miley loved her hostess’ sense of humor. She must crack up her husband on a daily basis, she thought.

Watching Mabel reach for the thin-stemmed, full-bodied glasses on the second shelf in the kitchen cabinet, Miley was certain that she wanted to be friends with this woman. She found herself hoping that, after tonight, they would find more reasons to get together with each other.

Besides storms, Miley thought.

“What about storms, Sweetie?” Mabel suddenly looked up at her. Miley hadn’t realized that she’d said the words aloud. Boy, I must be losing it, Miley momentarily worried.

“Well, all I meant by it is that we should get together again after tonight. We shouldn’t let storms be the only reason to spend time with each other.” Miley smiled.

Mabel smiled back at her. “Oh, absolutely, Sweetie. By the way, how are the skies looking? Since you got here tonight, I haven’t been paying attention. Can you walk out to the porch and see? If it’s getting bad, I’ll close the sliding glass door.”

“Sure.” Miley hopped down from the high bar seat and walked through the TV room, out to the porch. Once there, she shaded her eyes with a hand and looked straight up into the western sky. It was still relatively clear, although a few dark clouds were rolling into the horizon. However, when she turned completely around, away from the ocean, and looked into the eastern skies, she saw what was on its way to them.

It was dark. And it was ugly.

She walked back into the house and sat down at her place at the kitchen bar.

“I think I need that drink. Now,” she said, only half kidding.

“Why? Is it that bad?” Her hostess looked up from pouring the margaritas, a wrinkle of concern forming between her eyebrows.

“Well, right now, our area is still pretty clear. So we don’t have to close the sliding glass door just yet.” Here, Miley took a deep breath and paused for emphasis. “But what’s on the way to us looks pretty bad.”

Mable placed the Margarita with a ring of salt around its rim directly in front of Miley, who promptly grabbed it, tilted her head back and poured the sweetened tequila down her throat.

“Wow, you carried that off like a native! Don’t tell me you’re not a drinker, Honey.”

“Well, I’m not a regular or practiced drinker, let’s put it that way. I guess you could say that, tonight, I’m a desperate drinker.”

“Storm’s getting to you that badly, huh, Sweetie?” Mable looked at her with sincere sympathy, while she put the finishing touches on her own Margarita. Then, obviously wanting to relish her first sip, the older woman came around the side of the bar, sat down at a high bar stool next to Miley, and, holding the glass up in front of her, said, “Bottoms up!” She tipped the glass to her waiting lips, drank a goodly amount and then wiped a hand across her grinning mouth.

“Ah-h-h! Nothing like a Margarita. Can’t beat ‘em, I always say.” Miley couldn’t help but think that there was something about Mabel that reminded her of a sailor. I bet she can get pretty foul-mouthed when she’s had too much to drink. It was an errant thought, but one that occurred to Miley anyway.

Again, she looked around. With this much tropical beauty surrounding her, Miley could see the appeal of living on the beach. Its openness, its luxuriant environment, its ease.

Still, though, something about the beach bothered her.

She just couldn’t put her finger on it.

“Here, have some peanuts. Spanish peanuts. Yum. My favorite,” Mabel said as, grabbing a handful herself, she moved a medium-sized can of them towards her guest.

“Oh, I love these, too! There’s something about Spanish peanuts which sets them apart from the rest of nuts. Of course, I love all nuts, but you can’t beat these for a great snack,” Miley rhapsodized, as she swept up a brimming salty handful and started nibbling on them.

“Hey, Sweetie, speaking of snacks, have you had dinner yet?”

Miley almost choked on a peanut as the memory of nearly getting stuck in the basement filled her with dread. Again. What if she hadn’t had the courage to carefully work her way back up the basement stairs to see what the problem was? She’d still be down there.

She shivered at the prospect.

“N-No, not yet. Actually, I was going to prepare steaks, baked potatoes and a green salad for tonight, but when Daniel called to say he


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