Seasons of Change

By: Olivia Stephens

PROLOGUE




There’s a dream that I feel like I’ve been playing on repeat in my mind. It just keeps going round and round in my head. Making it impossible to forget what happened. As if that was even a possibility in the first place. The dream has followed the same pattern for the last six years; I know it so well now that I don’t even have to close my eyes to see it anymore.



I can hear the sound of the hail of bullets as they find their mark, I can smell the metallic scent of the blood that ran like a river down the street that night. My heart still clenches when I see him, when I see what they do to him, and I always know in that final moment before I wake up that his arm will be outstretched towards me, almost like he’s asking for help. But I’m frozen to the spot, unable to move.



Terrified. I wake up covered in a cold sweat, just like every other time. Outside the window, the fingers of dawn are just starting to spread across the Nevada skyline and I miss my dad so much it’s as if it were that first morning without him all over again.





CHAPTER ONE




“Order up,” Big George says in his incongruously quiet voice.



“Thanks G,” I say as I grab the plates of steaming eggs and bacon, piled high with toast, and carry them over to the table of regulars that eat breakfast in the diner almost every morning of the year apart from the only day that we close, Christmas Day: They nod their thanks to me and dig into their food as if it were their first meal in weeks.



Not for the first time that morning, I wonder where the hell Suzie is. Friday morning is always crazy busy and this isn’t the first time that she’d been late and left me dealing with all the tables on my own. But this was definitely the latest she’d ever been—we are almost an hour into the shift and there is still no sign of her.



If this were any town other than Painted Rock, I probably wouldn’t be worried. I’d probably just figure that she was suffering from a particularly awful hangover or that she’d forgotten to set her alarm. But in this town, you learned to think the worse; experience had failed to teach us anything different.



As I head back into the kitchen George looks at me with a question in his eyes. His name isn’t actually George—it’s Jorge. But when he’d arrived in Painted Rock he’d quickly realized that it paid to try to blend in. That’s as much as an almost-seven-feet-tall guy can blend in. He is what’s often described as a gentle giant; a big mountain of a man who is really just a huge teddy bear. The man doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body, but the way he looks is threatening enough for people to think twice about giving him any trouble.



When I’d first started working at Sunny Side Up I had been a little afraid of George—he looked like your typical thug and he was always so quiet there was no way of knowing what he was thinking.



But, as I got to know him, I quickly realized that he was actually the stereotypical gentle giant. I learned that his silence was a result of shyness and of not wanting to speak unless he had something important to say. He’d made a joke about how ironic the falsely cheerful name of the diner was in a town like Painted Rock, and from that moment I’d known that we saw things in much the same way.



“Still no sign of her?” George asks, keeping his tone as measured as always.



I shake my head, trying to stop myself from biting my bottom lip, a nervous habit that I never seemed to be able to grow out of. “I’m going to try her again,” I tell him, keeping my voice steady as I flick a glance out towards the diner to check that none of the customers are looking around for a refill or their check.



I press the speed dial button on my cell for Suzie, and this time her phone doesn’t even ring—it just goes straight to the beep of her voicemail. I try to keep the awful images that start swirling around in my head at bay, but it’s harder than it sounds.



“She’ll be fine, Aimee,” George says, his eyes concentrated on the sausage links he’s frying but his attention clearly on me.



“I wish I had a little of your positivity, G,” I tell him. “She could be anywhere, with anyone,” I add, trying to get my breathing under control.

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