Chapter 1: Seafoam Tears
1 Month Earlier
Tears spilled down the front of the typed letter, smearing the ink into black stains of nothingness. The words were as numb and unfeeling as the paper itself. Thin, and barely there.
It is you that the lord has asked for, daughter. Not your brother Ishmael or your sister Ruth, but you. I will not go against the word of God because of your selfishness. Therefore you will under all circumstances remain in the convent to serve our lord and savior as his wife. You must accept this Agatha, for the bough will not break on this.
May God Bring You Peace,
Aggie’s sea foam green eyes swam with tears as she read the four sentence long paragraph her father had deemed to send her after her six page long plea to be released from the convent. The nuns in the church that was nestled right outside of Baltimore were not at all what she had expected. They were cruel, sinister. As if they lost the faith they had once married themselves into, and were now too complacent to leave it once and for all. Disobedient nuns even seemed to disappear overnight, and it was the way The Mother looked at her that made Aggie feel as if she too may disappear.
With the other nuns, the obedient ones, she saw an utter lack of desire for life in their eyes, and it terrified her more than disappearing. Growing up with her father she had known the fear of God at an early age, but despite everything she had survived, she had not expected her father to put her in an actual convent. Yet here she was.
Aggie continued to stare at her father’s letter for a long while, even though the words were no longer legible. The paper caught her tears like a rain gutter, preventing any moisture to touch her uncomfortable black habit. After a while, a breeze from her open window, a very small reprieve from the stifling heat of the small, closed in room, swept in and blew the paper from her fingertips.
She didn’t chase it down to the floor, but instead let it flutter and skitter across the well worn flood boards. The black habit she wore was made of the stiffest fabric. It wasn’t able to breathe, much like Aggie’s own body.
Another breeze pushed through the window, stronger this time, colder. It swept into her and room and blew into her face, drying some of her tears. The air smelled of earth and rain, and of electricity. Outside, a roil of thunder shook the very convent and a fork of lightning illuminated the sky. Glancing up at the window, she watched the electricity crackle through the sky again, and she felt a smidgeon of peace in doing so.
The two homemade soy wax candles, the only light she had in the evening hours, sputtered and burnt out as two more lightning strikes lit up the sky. To Aggie that lightning bolt came down from the sky and right into her room, striking her in her very heart, as if to tell her now. Now is the time.
Feeling suddenly suffocated, Aggie shot up from her bed and began tearing at her nun’s habit. She ripped the stiff cardboard of her the headpiece away from her neck, loosening her long, straw blonde hair from its confining folds. The heavy black dress followed next, until she was standing in nothing but her plain white linen nightgown and standard underwear set.
Mirrors were forbidden at the convent, but she didn’t need one to know what she looked like. Short, thin, frail. She was a little mouse, with a twitchy personality and a sharp, keen sense for danger. She’d always known when bad things were going to come. Like when grandma Walker tripped over the coffee table last Christmas, or when Fenton, the family’s Jack Russel, got ran over by the ice cream truck just a few weeks before her father sent her off to the convent. Then of course, the convent itself. Even before her father found it she had known she was going to go somewhere.
She had done everything she could think of to make her father change his mind. She had cared for her siblings more, took on more chores, even started tutoring kids during her time between the community college course she was taking to help with the bills, but nothing pleased her father. He had told her that it was her ‘duty as a Godly woman’ to do exactly as he said.
But she just couldn’t do that anymore.
In her closet, a mere foot by by foot space the length of maybe five feet, she found nothing more than an extra habit and a thick white night coat that covered her from her neck all the way to her ankles. It was still prohibitive, but it was easier to wear than the thick, black cardboard of the other one. Hurriedly she put it on, throwing it over head and then pulling her hair free from the catches on the back of it. She buttoned it quickly, then reached for the simple black shoes they wore everyday.
No one in the convent made any money for themselves, nor were they permitted to have any personal belongings unless it were a crucifix or bible. For months, Aggie had pined for her books, but now she was thankful she had nothing to weigh her down. The only thing she had to worry about was herself, and good or bad, that was just the way it was.
Aggie’s window was two stories up, but it opened up to the rooftop of the first floor’s porch ceiling. She slid onto it noiselessly, and with less effort than she thought, used the rain to slide down the roof, catch the pecan tree branch, and swing down the few feet to the ground. A laugh, pure and full of excitement, burst through her lips when she turned on solid feet and looked back at the foreboding building of lost wives.
“Not me,” she whispered, turning and running as fast as she could down the road. “Not anymore.”
With no moon and no flashlight, Aggie had to trust the two barely visible, thin outlines of the road to lead her towards the city of Baltimore. Once there, she was never going to look back.
* * *
Selky Cove, New Hampshire
“Lily! Order up for a patty melt, cheeseburger sub, and house salad,” LeRoy yelled, pounding the hard with his fist. “Let’s go! These meals aren’t going to eat themselves!”
Aggie tucked a short strand of her now pixie-cut blonde hair behind her newly pierced ears and picked up two of the three plates. She still wasn’t comfortable enough to carry two plates in each hand, but two trips to her table with no mistakes was better than one attempted trip with an embarrassing spill. LeRoy didn’t like it, but he didn’t like anything during lunch hour traffic.
Aggie had made it to Baltimore almost too late. By the time she had found the outskirts, the convent had found out about her disappearance and had already been on the look for her. It was by sheer luck that a lumber yard truck was taking back roads to avoid a flood on the highway.
The driver was able to take her as far as Hagerstown, Maryland where he was kind enough to buy her a sandwich and a bus ticket to Hartford, Connecticut. From there she hitchhiked up to Portsmouth, then hiked up north until she couldn’t hike anymore. LeRoy, the bachelor and owner of the Seacoast Eatery, found her passed out alongside the road on his way back from town for a grocery run. Without even a second thought he had pulled his truck over, picked her up, and took her home to care for her until she could do so on her own.
Although LeRoy was gruff, and mostly nonverbal, he was a kind person at heart, who understood that life often held sudden jerks and setbacks. When Aggie had woken up on his couch nearly after almost an entire day of sleep, she had found a stack of used but clean clothes, a pair of boots, and a bag of toiletries along with a note that she was safe, and that he would be back to cook dinner at 8:30 p.m. At first she had thought it a cruel trick, but then she searched the small two-bedroom bungalow and found nothing but cooking books and a rather elaborate kitchen for a house so small.
After a long shower and an even longer bath, Aggie had taken the scissors from the medicine cabinet and sheared off her hair until it was above her ears. When she was done, she likened herself to a mischievous pixie, and smiled proudly at her reflection in the mirror. Her parents had never let her cut her hair.
The first few days had been rough, there was no denying that. LeRoy, despite his rather feral appearance, was very quiet, and kept to himself unless Aggie needed to be woken from her night terrors. And in the world that was his bungalow, there were so many things that she got to experience for the first time, like coffee, and beer. He even let her watch television, as long as she agreed to read at least an hour a day. Then, when she started getting comfortable wearing normal clothing, and performing normal tasks without the fear of retribution, he offered her a job at his restaurant.
Since then Aggie had taken to helping LeRoy out in his restaurant since his last waitress had just went on maternity leave, and they’d been together since. LeRoy didn’t ask questions, nor did he try to touch anything that wasn’t his. It created a quiet and peaceful relationship between them that neither chose to dive into or question. He knew her real name, but after the first day of meeting her he had called her Lily, and suggested that she stick to it. So she did.
“Lily, the salad!” LeRoy bellowed, pounding the bell again. Aggie snapped back to the present, looked around wildly for a moment, then kept moving.
“I said I’m coming!” She shouted back, throwing her gaze towards the kitchen window while setting down her plates. When she turned, she looked at her customers with an apologetic smile.
“Sorry about your wait,” she apologized, sliding the plates to the proper customers. “I’ll have your salad out in just a second.”
“And refills too, please,” the woman requested, shaking her red plastic coke cup to indicate that nothing but ice was in it.
“Of course,” Aggie replied, gathering up the cups and heading back to the kitchen. She dropped them into the bin as she skated by to grab the salad.
“Here you are,” she sang, setting the salad down. She moved to turn away, but the woman’s hand shot out and grabbed her by the wrist, holding her fast.
“I thought you were going to get us more drinks?” The woman asked, agitated. “We’re thirsty!”
“Yes ma’am,” Aggie bit out, pulling her wrist out of her grip viciously. “I’m getting them right now.”
As she moved away, the woman decided to yell at her through the very crowded restaurant : “Aren’t you supposed to be able to bring out lots of stuff at a time? Isn’t that how you make your tips?”
For a moment, Aggie’s face lit up bright red. Waitressing, or any job, was brand new to her. Her family had refused to let her get one as a teen, and in the convent they were kept far away from the churchgoers so that they couldn’t ask for help. As she felt all of the eyes in the building turn to look at her, she thought of that alternative. She thought of the coldness of the convent, and the harsh discipline of her family, and suddenly, this lady didn’t seem so bad. She was rude, there was no denying it, but she was Mother Theresa compared what she’d just ran away from.
Smiling widely, she scooped the ice into the cups, poured them to the brim with the incredibly sweet brew of their house tea, and returned with them with an overwhelmingly upbeat attitude.
“Here are your drinks,” she sang, smiling even wider at them, and particularly at the woman. “If you need anything else please let me know!”
The woman, unsure if she was being greeted with sarcasm or not, opened and closed her mouth several times before finally deciding to eat instead of complain. And that’s how the rest of the day went. The locals were quite laid back with their orders, but tourists always expected to be waited on hand and foot, even if the place they were in only charged three bucks for a cheeseburger sub.
After the dinner rush was over and the last of the customers had trickled out of the establishment, Aggie put the ‘closed’ sign on while LeRoy came out from behind the counter carrying two heaping bowls of clam chowder and a fresh, steaming loaf of homemade bread.
LeRoy was, she had decided, the best cook in the world. Everything he made, right down to a simple iceberg lettuce and shredded carrot salad, was so much more delicious than anything she’d ever eaten at the convent.
Their meals, she remembered begrudgingly, were often a crust of homemade bread, a thin soup, or some kind of meat paste that would often make her sick for days on end. She had always been somewhat of a thin individual, but with the lack of nourishment, she had dropped to an emaciated size by the time LeRoy had found her. But now, with the steady and nutritious meals he constantly made sure she ate, she was filling back out to a healthy size.
“Stop pushing your chowder around,” LeRoy grumbled, not looking up from his bowl. “You’ll like it, I added more dill this time.”
“I’m sure it’s delicious,” she quickly replied, smiling at him. “It’s not the chowder.”
In answer, LeRoy let out a sound that almost sounded like a question, which was his was of asking her to tell him what was wrong.
“I’m so grateful for you,” she told him, blowing on a spoonful of chowder. “You have no idea how you’ve saved my life. But honestly LeRoy, I don’t think being a waitress is working out for me,” she sighed. She popped the spoonful of chowder into her mouth, and her eyes rolled in pleasure as the delicious swirl of cream and herbs and clams exploded over her tastebuds. Immediately she shoveled in two more spoonfuls, and tore off a chunk of bread for dipping.
“I have to agree,” LeRoy grumbled back, dunking a hunk of the bread into his bowl, “but something is better than nothing until you get back on your feet.”
Aggie appreciated that LeRoy’s response, as always, was so laid back. She was so used to being chastised for showing anything but obedience, that it was still a struggle to say what she actually felt. Being able to do so, she realized, was one of the tastiest morsels of freedom so far.
They sat in comfortable silence for the next half hour while Aggie considered his truthful perspective. Waitressing definitely wasn’t her calling, but the tips she was making was helping her get a nest egg saved up for an apartment quicker than she had imagined. If she could just get a few more weeks of good tips saved up she’d have enough for the rent and and security deposit of a studio apartment above the fisherman’s wharf down at the Selkie Cove port. It was old, damp, and smelled of fish, but it was in her price range and once in it wouldn’t have to worry about anyone taking control of her life ever again.
She pictured the studio apartment with a good scrubbing, and maybe a paint job in Tiffany Blue. She would work an extra job if she had to, but she pictured the little space full of lush green plants, simple furniture, and shelves upon shelves of books. On Mondays, when the restaurant was closed, she imagined herself sitting in a plush chair or even swinging in a hammock hung from the ceiling as she read a book and sipped coffee while she listened to the rain.
“Today’s Thursday,” LeRoy mentioned after they’d scraped their bowls.
His voice brought her out of her daydream, and Aggie nodded her head in acknowledgement.
“I know what to do,” she promised him.
Most nights Aggie and LeRoy would close up the restaurant together, hop in his old pickup, and then they would drive the five miles to his bungalow. LeRoy would go over the day’s accounts with reruns of The Office in the background while more often than not Aggie would curl up with one of the many books he had in his personal collection and read until she was asleep.
But Thursday nights were different. Although he kept his symptoms to a minimum, Aggie was sure that at one point in his life, LeRoy had been either a hardcore alcoholic or drug addict. She didn’t care one way or another, for if life had taught her anything, it was that everyone has demons that struggle with. However, she quickly picked up that every Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. there was an AA meeting in the basement of the local library, and no matter how hectic or how backed up Thursday got, LeRoy would always leave the restaurant no later than 8:15 p.m.
As if on cue, LeRoy raised his head to the clock above the entrance, noted it was 8:13 p.m., and went to the register to pay Aggie out for the night. Every night before they left he always paid Aggie the cash she’d earned from that day. ‘Just in case,’ he’d always told her. Although she wasn’t sure what the ‘just in case’ meant, she appreciated the feel of her hard earned cash in her pocket every night.
With LeRoy out the door and no-one else in the joint, Aggie locked the place up, turned off the lights, and turned on the radio as she went about taking care of the end of day cleanups. Although she’d only been there a few weeks, she’d gotten down a system to get herself home by 9:30, including the walk home.
Salt, sugar and pepper shakers got filled first, then the liquid condiment bottles. Any last minute dirty dishes would added to the gigantic dishwasher and turned on before the end of every night, and then to finish she would give the tables and the floor a quick bath with hot, soapy water.
Aggie was shaking her hips to ‘work from home’ by Fifth Harmony and finishing scrubbing the tables when she suddenly felt something, almost like a hand, travel down the length of her spine. She gasped and whirled around, the bucket of suds going over all over the floor as she knocked it over. Her eyes searched the dining room frantically, looking for the culprit. Her sixth sense was trying to warn her of danger, and suddenly she wished very much that LeRoy was still there.
Although dark, she could still see relatively well. Outside, the mid summer wind was blowing strongly. Branches were waving along the windows, but there was nothing else. The air in the restaurant was still, hot. She listened closely for several moments, but could only hear her own breath and the rush of the wind outside. Hurriedly, she went into the kitchen to retrieve one of the largest knives LeRoy had. When she came back out, she felt her senses tingling again, and knew without a doubt that trouble was close by.
Moving cautiously, her eyes scanned the dining area for any signs of disturbance as she continued to inch towards the glass door. Chills had started to run up the back of her neck, and a sheen of sweat that had nothing to do with heat sprang up on her forehead. Her eyes, as wide as saucers, scanned the area for any cars.
Suddenly, a man came out of the tree line surrounding the restaurant, and ran right up to the door so fast that his entire body slammed full force into the glass. He smiled at her insanely before his hands, large and dirty, slammed against the glass again, causing a crack to form as his twisted face peered in at her. His eyes were wide and round and an icy blue that made Aggie think of the zombies on a television show LeRoy liked to watch. He had grime and dirt in every crevice of his face and his teeth were mixture of black, yellow, and brown. The moment she had been able to see him, she had gasped and stumbled back in revulsion.
Selkie Cove was a small town, one of the smallest in New Hampshire. Within her first two weeks working at LeRoy’s, she’d met just about every member of the community and she knew for a fact that this guy was absolutely not a part of it.
“You open?” The guy asked, thumping his hand against the glass, cracking it some more. “I’m hungry!”
Aggie, trying to gather herself, shook her head no vehemently. “Sorry sir, we’re closed for the evening. Come back tomorrow sir.” She moved to pull the blind down over the window, but he thumped the glass again, this time laughing.
“Listen little girl,” he told her, his eyes full of insanity. “You let me in real nice, or I’ll let myself in real mean.”
Aggie gripped the knife in her hand and started backing away. She had no idea how to use a knife, aside from peeling vegetables, and if she needed to defend herself she was quite certain that having it put her in more danger of getting hurt than not.
“I’m calling the cops!” Aggie yelled, trying to scare him. Though sadly she knew she couldn’t. She had already seen some of the headlines from bigger paper. She’d been filed as a missing persons, and had been deemed ‘mentally unstable’. Aggie also knew that her picture was by now on every missing persons board on the east coast.
The only option she had left was to call the library, and if by the grace of God LeRoy was actually there, she knew he would be more than willing to come down and dissolve the situation.
Making her decision, she tossed the knife over the counter, ran to the phone, and started dialing the numbers. Just as the answering machine picked up, the glass to the front door exploded into a firework of glittering crystal fragments, and not one, but two men barged their way into the restaurant.
“You picked a good one,” the new guy said, making no move to hide the apparent pleasure in his eyes as he looked at Aggie up and down. “She’s real pretty, and tiny too. Won’t put up much of a fight.”
Suddenly, Aggie very much regretted losing the knife.
“Stay back!” She warned them, holding her hands out in front of her. “I’ve called the police and they’re going to be here any minute!”
“That’s not as convincing of a defense as most people think it is,” the first guy said casually.
“We really just need a few minutes,” the other said. His hand shot out quickly, quicker than Aggie could understand, and grabbed a handful of her hair.
“It doesn’t take much longer than that.”
“Please,” Aggie sobbed, more scared than she’d ever been in her life, “just take the money and go. I won’t say anything I swear.”
Together the two men chuckled.
“Don’t worry, we will take the money.”
“We like to give ourselves a finder’s fee.”
Aggie had no idea what they were talking about, and that only made her panic more.
“I-I really don’t understand what you want,” she whispered, tears trailing down her cheeks.
“I told you little girl,” he grinned, pulling his fist back. “We’re hungry, and we need something good to eat.”