What do you get when you cross a hockey mom with the grim reaper?
Me, Lisa Carron. If being a depressed, frumpy, widowed mother of three wasn't bad enough, I just found out I'm a grim reaper. I know what you're thinking. Wow, that's kind of sexy and full of awesomeness. Hardly. Oh, and my clients? Stupid people. Like I don't get enough of that from the living.
Since Alaska is big and angels of death are few, I've been partnered with reaper extraordinaire, Nate Cramer. He's strong, silent, and way too good looking for my recently widowed state. Oh, and he reaps violent criminals, so that should be interesting.
Forget the danger and the hours of self-analysis it will take for me to find my reaper mojo. My biggest problem? Hiding it all from my overly attentive family and nosy neighbors. Now that's going to take a miracle.
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Being a widow wasn’t as glamorous as it sounded. Unless a person had the money to grieve properly—say in a tropical country, drowning in endless Mai Tais—it really kind of sucked.
I should know. I’ve been a widow for a year now. Twelve long months of clawing my way through each day. My name is Lisa Carron. I’m a thirty-five year old, single mother of three, and today was the one year anniversary of my husband Jeff’s death.
It was also a year ago today I started letting my appearance slide. Grief will do that to you. Lay you low and drag you into dark places you never thought you’d go. In my case it was carbs and elastic waistbands.
For the last year my kids had come first. Only after they left for school did I allow myself to wallow in my deep depression. Tasks like dressing and combing my hair took a back seat to more important activities, such as lying on the couch and staring at the ceiling, or searching the cabinets for spilled chocolate chips. None of my pre-widow clothes fit anymore. Still, I hadn’t been motivated to clear off my treadmill and fire that baby up.
One aspect of widowhood I had enjoyed was wearing black. I know that wasn’t really a thing anymore, unless you’re an elderly lady from the old country, but I embraced it none the less—maybe a little too enthusiastically. Everything I owned was black.
I’d fallen into a rut and until a few days ago, when my daughter casually suggested I run a comb through my hair as to not scare the neighbor kids, I hadn’t realized how far I’d sunk. At that point a thought struck me. My kids were fine. They’d weathered the crisis of their father’s death and emerged on the other side in far better shape than me.
The revelation was bittersweet. I mean, kudos to me for being an awesomely supportive mother but damn, I needed to take a long dip in Lake Lisa. My frizzy ponytail belonged on the backend of a horse, and my nails looked like I’d been buried alive and clawed my way out of the grave. In a word—I was a hot mess.
Determined to get my act together, I dropped off the spawn of my loins at my parents’ house for the weekend. After which, I went home, opened a bottle of Riesling and planned out two kid-free days. The excitement made me a little giddy—or maybe it was the wine—anyway, for the first time in a year, I sketched out a Saturday that was all about me.
That night I slept like a baby and when morning dawned, I rolled out of bed ready to face the day. A slight ache beat against the inside of my skull. But it was nothing a few aspirin couldn’t cure. Plus, the Riesling had totally been worth it.
I showered and headed to the Holiday gas station near my friend Vella’s hair salon. Getting my hair done was number two on my list. Buying my bucket of soda number one. The sugary nectar was the only legal substance I knew that gave me the sustained energy I needed to get through my day of errands—and sadly, the main reason I’d become a little fluffy.
Before I could shut off Omar, my ancient minivan, The Hokie Pokie, my mom’s special ringtone, erupted in my purse. A million terrible scenarios sped through my mind. Fine, maybe I wasn’t completely okay with being away from my kids.
I flipped off the ignition and scrambled to find my phone. “Are the kids okay?”
“They’re fine, sweetheart.” Mom’s placating voice soothed my panic back to a normal level. A small plane from the nearby airport buzzed over the car. “Where are you? I hear traffic. Are you running errands?”
Translation, did you get your big butt out of bed?
“Yes, I’m at the Holiday station near Merrill Field. I’m getting gas,” I lied, not needing the lecture on eating better. “Did you want something?”
“It’s sixteen degrees out.” Temperature update brought to you by my mother, the neighborhood weather monitor. “Are you wearing your winter coat?”
“No, it’s not that cold.” Refusing to wear my parka until it hit zero had been something I’d done since I was a teenager—a personal affirmation that I was an Alaskan woman. Plus, it irritated the hell out of Mom, so I’d kept up the tradition.
“You and that stupid habit. One day you’re going to catch your death.” Her heavy sigh hissed through the receiver. “Anyway, what do you have planned for today?”
“I’m on my way to Vella’s to get my hair cut.” Vella was my best friend and supreme ruler of all hairstylists in the universe. “Possibly my nails.”
“Oh good, you were starting to look like a mangy Cocker Spaniel. Have her hit those roots with a little color too. You’ll feel so much better.”
Translation, she’d feel better.
Having grown up with Mom’s backhanded comments; I now ignored them—for the most part. I was secure in my frumpiness and looked passably acceptable to be seen in public. Though Bronte, my daughter, would argue that point.
“Mom, are you sure you’re okay keeping the kids this weekend? I can get them after my hair appointment.”
“Nonsense. We’re making ghost sugar cookies for Halloween and your father is pulling out his gun collection later.”
In the background I heard a collective cheer from my twin sons. “Are you nuts? Do not let the boys anywhere near those weapons.”
“They’re just show pieces, honey. The boys will be fine.”
Show pieces my ass.
“Uh huh.” My father was a retired cop and had an unhealthy obsession with firearms. But arguing with my mother was pointless. It was a sad state of affairs when a fifteen year old was the most responsible person in residence. “Could you put Bronte on the phone?”
Several seconds of silence passed until my daughter came on the line. “Yo.”
“Hey, do me a favor and make sure the boys don’t touch Grandpa’s guns.”
She gave me her perfected annoyed-teenager-grunt. “How? They don’t listen to me.”
“You’re clever. Figure something out.” Bronte was more devious than both her brothers combined. It was a trait I’d stopped fighting and now used to my benefit. “If the boys come home unharmed, I’ll buy you those new hockey skates you want.” They weren’t top of the line but the cost would set me back. But my kids’ safety was worth it. “We’ll get them after I pick you up Sunday.”
“Right after you pick us up?”
“I promise.” I couldn’t waffle or she’d think I was bluffing. “We won’t even go home first.”
She was silent for a few seconds, but I had her. She’d been asking for new skates since last season. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you, sweetie. Tell Grandma I’ll call her later. Mommy loves you.”
She made a gagging sound and I smiled, ending the call. Nobody would be going near my father’s gun collection if Bronte had anything to say about it.
I dropped the phone into my purse and opened my van door. It gave a squawk of protest, the loud kind that made everybody cringe and turn to stare. I kept meaning to have my dad look at it, but then I’d be subjected to my mother’s endless affirmations on how to bounce back from losing Jeff. Like she would know anything about losing a husband. Sure it might seem like my dad was dead when he sat in his chair watching TV, but he was just quiet. I’m almost certain my mother hadn’t drained all the life out of him—yet. So I lived with judgmental looks and knowledge that one more thing in my life was falling apart.
The cold October wind swirled around me and slipped between the collar of my black polar fleece jacket and neck. Shivers rippled along my shoulders. I yanked the zipper up and walked to the front door, tilting my chin toward the sky so I wouldn’t breathe on the collar of my jacket. I hated when my breath flash froze the material to my face. It was like a mini wax job. And considering the lack of attention I’d given my upper lip over the last year, I wasn’t taking any chances.
I pulled open the glass door to the convenience store and held it for a large, bald guy with bad manners and a worse looking trench coat. He didn’t even say thank you—rude bastard. Normally I would have made some snarky comment, but something about the way he skulked past sent a serious case of the heebie-jeebies through me. Instead I ignored him and headed for the soda machine.
Something about fountain pop made it better than drinking it out of a plastic bottle. Maybe there was more fizz, less sweetness. Maybe it was the straw. A lot of things taste better with a straw. Mr. No Manners slinked past me and around the back of the store to the refrigerated section. I focused on getting my jumbo beverage, not making eye contact with him.
The crinkle of snack cake wrappers sounded behind me and I glanced over my shoulder. The first thing I saw was firm, male buns. The man straightened and perused the artificial ingredients on a package of pastries.
I silently scoffed. From his trim physique and well-rounded tush, it was obvious this guy had never enjoyed the luscious processed goodness of a mass-made pastry. He was too fit—too outdoorsy looking, with his healthy glow and casually tousled brown hair. He definitely gave off an, I hike and compost Alaskan man vibe. People like him rarely bought anything that contained more than three ingredients and those pastries were only eaten by hardcore junk-foodies. I never touched them myself. The texture reminded me of soggy florist foam or crumbling sheet rock. Not that I’d ever eaten either.
I might have been a grieving widow but I wasn’t dead, so I gave Mr. Snack Cake one more appreciative look before returning my attention to filling the vat of soda.
I’d just snapped on the cup’s plastic lid when a deep voice shouted, “Give me all your cash.”
My head whipped toward the front of the convenience store. Mr. Bad Manners held a shot gun pointed directly at Doug and Roger, the mini-mart cashiers. Yeah, we we’re on a first name basis.
Like a heavy rock sinking into thick mud, the situation registered. Holy crap, it was a fricken’ holdup.
My fingers dug into my soda cup, my eyes growing wide. I think I stopped breathing, not wanting to draw the robber’s attention. My first thought was of my kids and how things were finally getting back to normal. Well, as normal as they could be. No way was I attempting some adrenaline inspired hero crap that would no doubt get me killed.
From those thoughts of survival, my mind quickly jumped to the fact I might be on the nightly news and that I should have dressed better. Random Thought Syndrome—I was one of its many sufferers.
The snack cake guy stood unmoving. It didn’t appear any of us patrons were looking to be local heroes, or from the robber’s crazed stare, a possible fatality.
About the Author
Having lived all over the world, and finally settling in the icy region of Alaska, she's always looking for the next adventure. It's not unusual to find Boone traversing the remotest parts of the Alaskan bush, gathering information for her stories. No person or escapade is off limits when it comes to weaving real life experiences into her books or blogs.
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