Living as a single mom doesn’t give Colleen much opportunity for romance, and when her only shot with Daryl goes sour, she reluctantly settles for a good book borrowed from her neighbor. What handsome John neglects to tell her, though, is that his library is filled with titles of magical quality – open the book and you’re in the story!
When Colleen finds a book on John’s shelf called “Midnight Passions,” she realizes reading is fundamental … for her sex life.
(Note: This story was previously published in Phaze Fantasies, Vol. 1.)
Colleen hoped that by now, nearly six months into their relationship, that Daryl would show more understanding for her situation. When he flopped back on her sofa and planted his boot heels on her coffee table, tearing the cover of a fashion magazine she had yet to read, her first instinct was to kick his feet away, then kick him out of the house.
Her daughter Melissa, seated primly in the recliner facing them, might have championed that move. Melissa was too young to understand the intricacies of adult relationships, though. This was a minor snag, nothing more. It could be resolved–no need for knee-jerk reactions.
Daryl’s head lolled from side to side over the back of the couch, and he sighed heavily. “Can’t she stay home alone?” he whined.
Colleen paced the floor behind him, cordless phone pressed to her ear, and brushed away a lock of red hair from her eyes. “She’s eight years old, Daryl. She’s too young to be without a sitter.”
She glanced at Melissa, whose attention at that moment turned away from the cartoon she was watching and fixed on her mother. Melissa’s expression was cold, strongly advising Colleen to not talk about her like she wasn’t there… and to not treat her like a kindergartner.
“And it’s not that I don’t trust you,” Colleen rejoined quickly. “I don’t trust the rest of the world. Damn it!” She clicked the off button after the twelfth ring, cursing to herself. That was her last number, her last hope. Daryl was going to be pissed, more so, but what could she do? It wasn’t her fault the babysitter canceled and that she couldn’t find a last minute replacement.
“Mom,” Melissa called.
“We don’t have to go out,” Colleen suggested to Daryl, her voice placating. “We could order in some pizza, rent some movies.”
“But these tickets are only good for tonight.” Daryl waved the free movie passes in the air under Colleen’s nose. The thin edge of one looked as if it might slice her skin, and she instinctively leaned back. Daryl had scored tickets to some slasher flick from a friend. Where anything free was concerned, Daryl was a master at acquisition. Be it free movies, free food, whatever. His thriftiness didn’t bother Colleen so much; he had college loans to pay, and of course there was the promise of a new, bigger house for the three of them, as he had intimated more than once in their time together. She knew that certainly wouldn’t be free.
This was an R-rated movie, too, so Melissa couldn’t come with them, even if Daryl could manage a third pass.
“Mom,” Melissa pressed.
“Not now, honey.” Colleen pinched the bridge of her nose. It did little to calm the throbbing in her temples. “Well, I suppose we could–”
“Come on, she’s gotta have some friends she can stay with for a few hours. Don’t you know any of your neighbors?” Daryl interrupted. He plucked a corn chip from the bag at his hip and tossed it at the girl. “Unless you’re, like, some kind of nerd that nobody likes.”
“I have friends, and I’m not a nerd,” Melissa huffed. Her long, brown hair swayed across her back as she bounced impatiently in her seat.
“And I don’t really know any of the people around here,” Colleen said at the same time. “You know we haven’t lived here long enough to make friends…”
“I’m staying over with my friend Monica tomorrow night,” Melissa continued.
“So, move it up,” Daryl said.
“I can’t. Monica’s mom won’t let her have friends over on school nights, just Fridays and Saturdays.”
Colleen tapped at the phone, wishing another number would dial itself and somebody would answer. She didn’t want to get into the sleepover argument with Daryl. The only reason she had conceded to the Friday night one was so she and Daryl could have the place to themselves. As much as she loved Daryl, Colleen had made it clear that he couldn’t spend the night when Melissa was home. Their trysts were thus limited to the nights Melissa spent with her father, who was presently out of state on business for a few weeks. The sleepover was Colleen’s only hope for sanity this month.
Assuming she lived to see tomorrow night and didn’t give in to the urge to go running into the street and into the path of a truck.
“Mom!” Melissa shouted.
“What!” Colleen snapped, then, “I’m sorry, sweetie. What is it that you want?”
“I called Professor Spence. He said he’d come over if it was okay with you.”
“Professor Spence?” It had never occurred to Colleen to call her next door neighbor, and landlord. Professor John Spence lived in the adjoining townhome–the Burleighs rented the other half that Spence owned–and basically kept to himself. Colleen imagined that in the four months they lived there, she had probably spoken no more than five hundred words to the man since signing the lease. He always seemed to be coming when Colleen was going, and vice versa.
He was, however, almost always home at night, and then Colleen surmised he was hardly alone, if the soft moans seeping through the wall connecting their bedrooms could be interpreted correctly.
“I don’t know,” Colleen said warily. She would hate for the professor to have to cancel a date to babysit Melissa. Besides, even though she handed him a check for rent every month she didn’t really know the man. How she could trust a practical stranger with her daughter?
Daryl was out of his seat and poised to strike. “What? What’s wrong with him?” he demanded. Colleen ignored him, giving her attention to her daughter.
“What possessed you to bother Professor Spence? I’m sure he has better things to do with his time,” she told the young girl.
Melissa rolled her eyes and sagged into the recliner. “He said it was okay, Mom. He’s not a stranger. I talk to him every day. Sometimes he helps me with my homework.”
“He does?” How long had this tidbit of information been kept from her? Colleen should have been relieved to find a sitter at such short notice, but now she felt more suspicious, to say nothing of being disappointed with herself. What else did she not know about her daughter’s life and with whom Melissa spent her time?
“Janie called only half an hour ago to say she wasn’t coming. When did you consult with Professor Spence?” she challenged.
Melissa threw her a glance that said Duh! “I walked next door while you two were yelling. It took, like, a minute.”
Her daughter was able to slip from her attention so quickly? What kind of a mother are you?
“We weren’t yelling, we were discussing the situation. And what were you doing–hey!”
“Yelling, discussing, whatever.” Daryl was shrugging on his coat and hustling Colleen toward the door simultaneously. “Can’t we all say nobody’s at fault so we can get going, huh? I don’t want to miss the previews.”
Colleen was barely able to grab her purse from the recliner. It was pressed between the arm and Melissa, but the young girl moved to help Colleen dislodge it easier. Melissa’s look of calm was fascinating and disturbing.
“Wait,” she said. But Daryl was too strong for her to resist.
“He’s not a serial killer, Mom. Go to the movie, have a good time,” Melissa called after them, picking up the phone Colleen had discarded on the couch. “I’ll call him now and let him know you’re gone.”
“O-okay,” Colleen said, but inside her stomach roiled. Sure, Professor Spence had been cordial to them for the time they lived in his building, but weren’t all serial killers like that, offering pleasant personalities to hide their evil?
She let herself be dragged out the door to Daryl’s truck. The girl was dialing their neighbor’s phone number, by memory apparently. Colleen had never known Professor Spence’s phone number. She had never thought to check the lease for it and she never had cause to use it, not even for emergency situations or to check on the mail while they were away. The townhome was too well maintained for Colleen to require anything of him.
Yet Melissa knew him well.
What else didn’t she know?