mysterybkluv: who else here loves cozy mysteries best?
poirotsgirl: cozies are my fave, esp if they have recipes in the back
mysterybkluv: ngl it would be great to live in a small town where there are lots of low-stakes murders and I could solve them while working in my family restaurant
tyz7412: lol living the dream
"Earth to Mom. Come in, Mom."
"Mom, I'm going to be late for the bus!"
Celia shook her head. The small person beside her was blurry, out of focus. Did she need glasses now?
And why was this person calling her "Mom"?
Celia blinked hard, once, twice, and the little person came into focus. A girl-maybe ten, eleven years old?-staring at her expectantly, holding an open backpack.
"What?" Celia asked.
"My lunch," the girl said. "I need my lunch. Did you drink enough coffee this morning?"
Celia looked down. In front of her, on a white countertop, was an open cloth lunch bag. Inside it there was already a plastic bag of sliced apples, a bag of all-natural puffed corn snacks (cheese flavored), and a chocolate soy milk.
A piece of waxed paper lay unfolded on the counter. What is all this disposable packaging? I would never buy things like this.
"Mom!" The little person was getting really insistent now. "Sandwich!"
Celia couldn't think. She needed this small girl to leave so she could organize her thoughts.
Why does she keep calling me "Mom"? I don't have any children.
"Two minutes!" the girl screeched.
There was a loaf of wheat bread and a package of cheese from the deli next to the waxed paper. Celia took out two pieces of bread.
"One piece in half! Mom, what's wrong with you today?"
"Sorry," Celia said, cutting the single slice of bread in half. "How much cheese?"
"Two pieces! Come on, come on!"
You're old enough to do this yourself, Celia thought as she folded the bread around the cheese, wrapped the sandwich in waxed paper and shoved everything in the lunch bag. The girl grabbed it, stuffed it in her pack and sprinted toward the door.
"Bye, love you!" she said as she threw the door open, then slammed it shut behind her.
Celia walked like a sleepwalker to the window next to the door and peered out. The little girl was running down a long inclined driveway toward what appeared to be a country road. Across the street there was nothing to see except trees, tall trees that looked like older-growth maple, oak and ash.
The little girl reached the end of the drive just as a yellow school bus pulled up in front of the mailbox. She clambered onto the bus and it pulled away.
She's gone. Now I can think.
Footsteps sounded overhead and Celia glanced up at the ceiling in alarm. The steps moved across the floor, and a moment later Celia heard someone large coming down the stairs. She couldn't see the stairs from where she stood. The kitchen was attached to a dining room on one side and a hallway on the other. Celia peered into the hall. The bottom of the stairs was at the far end.
A strange man rounded the banister and headed toward her, frowning at his cell phone as he walked. Celia backed away from him, her heart pounding. Her butt bumped into the edge of the counter. She scrambled around it and positioned herself close to the door so she could run if she needed to do so. She looked down at her feet. Socks. Not even slippers. There was a pair of low shelves positioned next to the door with shoes neatly arranged on them. One of those pairs should be hers. But would she have time enough to figure out which pair, put them on and get out the door?
"Hey, babe, I've got a ton of meetings this morning," the man said. "I'll stop by the restaurant at lunchtime."
Who is he?
The man was very tall, at least six inches taller than herself, and she wasn't a small woman. He had dark hair cut in what she thought of as "millennial fund manager" style and wore a well-tailored gray suit. He had a gym-toned look about him and altogether gave the impression of someone who belonged in a city. This impression was reinforced when he pulled on an expensive-looking wool overcoat. His shoes, Celia noted, were very shiny.
He leaned close to her and kissed her cheek absently, still looking at the phone so he didn't notice the way she inched backward. She caught a whiff of his aftershave, something musky and heavy. Her nose twitched.
"See you later," he said, and disappeared out the same door as the little girl.
Celia went to the window and pulled one blind up to peek out. The man who'd called her "babe," the man who'd kissed her goodbye, had gotten into a black Audi SUV that was parked at the top of the driveway. He backed down the drive and pulled out onto the road, heading in the opposite direction of the bus.
An Audi. City guy, she thought again, and then wondered why she thought this.
Because I live in a city and I see those kinds of guys all the time, she thought, but the thought was like a stabbing pain in her head. She looked around the kitchen, then out the window once more.
Clearly, she did not live in a city. Why did she think she lived in a city?
But now, finally, all the people were gone from the house and she could stop and think.
The kitchen was large and had a white countertop that wrapped around half of the room and then extended out on the third side as a breakfast bar. There were stools lined up along that side, facing the dining room.
Celia pulled one out, sat on it and stared at the rectangular dining room table and chairs, done in some heavy dark wood that she never would have chosen for herself. She didn't like dark wood, didn't like the formality of it, and she definitely didn't like anything that looked like it would need regular polishing. Celia hated to clean, and she particularly hated to dust and polish. That dining room table represented everything she didn't want in a piece of furniture.
"I didn't buy that," she murmured. "I have a round oak table."
Again, there was a little stabbing feeling between her eyes, and she rubbed the spot with her forefinger. Obviously she didn't have a round table. The two people who'd rushed out of the house seemed to think she lived there, that she belonged there.
And that guy, that guy who kissed me goodbye-he did look a little familiar.
"He said he would see me at the restaurant. Do I work at a restaurant?"
She had a vague memory of her hands collecting dishes from a table, of tucking a notepad into an apron.
Maybe I drank a lot last night. Or maybe I had a mini stroke or something.
The only thing she knew for sure was that her first name was Celia.
She stood up again and walked into the dining room. At one side of the room there was a large cabinet with glass doors on top and drawers on the bottom. The cabinet matched the dining set, and she crinkled her nose at it.
I hate that matchy-matchy thing. I bet all the dishes are in a matching pattern, too.
When she opened the glass doors, she confirmed that her prediction was accurate. All the tableware and serving plates were in a matching pattern, a kind of country floral that made her think of wedding registries.
On the wall opposite the cabinet there was a large, posed photograph of three people. The background was soft gray, like they'd been in a photo studio. There was Celia, sitting next to the tall dark-haired man. They both wore white-cabled fisherman-style sweaters. The lunch-demanding little girl stood in front of them, positioned so that she was halfway between them. She, too, wore a cabled sweater, this one in pink. All three of them had the slightly glazed eyes and overly toothy smiles that came with posed photography.
This is my family? Celia thought, then told herself, more firmly, This is my family.
There was obviously something wrong with her today. Amnesia seemed unlikely. Early-onset dementia?
It can't be dementia. I'm only thirty-four.
"Ah!" she said, and clapped her hands together. She'd remembered something else. She was thirty-four.
Okay, okay, you just need to walk around for a bit and then you'll remember everything. Maybe you just didn't sleep well or something.
She paced slowly through the dining room and into the living room. Leather furniture-more yuck-a huge entertainment system, several more photographs of herself and her family caught in various activities: eating drippy ice cream cones, building sandcastles, taking a picture with a certain mouse at an amusement park. Regular family things.
There was something about the pictures that bothered her, but she looked at them for a few minutes and couldn't put her finger on it, so she moved on.
She climbed the stairs and found four rooms upstairs-two bedrooms, one office and a bathroom. The little girl's bedroom had posters of Korean pop stars and a pile of soccer gear in the corner. The carpet was pink and so were the walls. It wasn't to Celia's taste, but then it wasn't her room, so it didn't matter.
The second bedroom wasn't to her taste, either, but apparently this was her bedroom.
The bedroom I share with that strange man, she thought, with a trickle of unease.
Like the furniture downstairs, everything in the bedroom was made of heavy, dark wood, with a thick blue carpet underfoot. She didn't like wall-to-wall carpeting, and yet it was everywhere in this house. On an end table on one side of the bed there was a wedding photograph of a younger Celia smiling next to the strange man. Beside the photograph was a brown leather purse.
Brand name, high-end. I wouldn't have bought this for myself. It's a waste of money. The Audi guy must have bought it. He seems like the type to care about stuff like this.
Celia sat on the edge of the bed and emptied the purse onto the dark blue comforter. A large wallet fell out, along with a pack of Trident spearmint gum, a package of tissues, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a powder compact, a hairbrush, a cherry-flavored ChapStick and some business cards.
Standard purse contents, but like the photos she'd seen downstairs, something seemed to be missing. She just couldn't think of what that something might be.
She opened the wallet and found a New York State driver's license with her photo on it. The name listed was "Celia Zinone." She said the name to herself. It seemed right, unlike everything else she'd experienced so far. There was a debit card and two credit cards in the same name, and a few more family photos-mostly the posed kind-in the photo flap. All the photos were of her immediate family. Did she have no parents? No brothers or sisters or nieces or nephews?
Celia picked up the stack of business cards. They advertised Zinone's Italian Family Restaurant next to a cartoon of a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Her own name was listed underneath as the owner, and beneath that was the address and phone number.
I run a restaurant. Okay.
She again had a flash of memory-of stirring a giant pot of sauce, of folding ingredients into layers of lasagna.
"He said he would see me at the restaurant at lunch," Celia said.
She looked at the business card again. So she should probably get dressed and take herself to this restaurant. Maybe going to work would help her remember more.
Terror clutched at her for a moment. It was as though she stood beside a dizzying abyss, with no real sense of self, no memories, no knowledge of what she'd done the previous day or even that morning before the little girl started shouting about her lunch.
Black spots danced in front of her eyes and her heart seemed like it was trying to escape her chest. Her breath came in hard pants and she heard the wheezy quality of it, an inability to get the oxygen all the way to the bottom of her lungs.
She dug her fingers into the comforter on either side of her legs, feeling the material scrunch beneath her hands.
Calm, calm, calm. Breathe, breathe, breathe. You're okay. You're not in danger.
Hard on the heels of that thought came another one. Why would I be in danger?
Celia forced herself to take deep, calming breaths, and after a few moments, her heart rate slowed, though its beating still seemed unnaturally loud to her.
I just need to go to the restaurant and then things will click into place. But how will I get there? I'm not sure where I am in relation to it.
She glanced over the items on the bed and realized what was missing. A cell phone. Surely she had one. Where had she left it, though?
She checked all the surfaces in the bedroom and found two charging stations on top of the dresser. Assuming the strange man (your husband) didn't carry two cell phones, then one of the chargers was for her phone.
Why wasn't it in her purse? She always kept her phone in her purse when it wasn't on the charger. She didn't like to use it in the house.
Celia grabbed on to that thought the same way she'd done with the memory of her age. It was something concrete, something solid that she knew about herself for certain. She avoided using her phone in the house because she didn't want to be one of these people who mindlessly scrolled all day.
But she couldn't find it in the bedroom, no matter how many drawers she opened or pockets she checked. She did note the type of clothes in the closet-conservative-looking sweaters and button-down blouses in low-key colors, lots of beige and gray and black and soft pastels. The sight of them made her feel, again, that these weren't things she would have chosen for herself. She was more of a happy-print skirt and quirky T-shirt girl.
For a third time her forehead stabbed with pain, and she wondered if she needed to hydrate more, or perhaps a migraine was coming on.
A loud ringing echoed through the house, the sound of an old-fashioned rotary dial phone. The noise pulled Celia out of the bedroom and down the stairs in search of the source, and she ended up back in the kitchen, where she'd begun.
Copyright © 2023 by Christina Henry. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.