The first anthology of short stories by The Final Twist Writers.
Laura Elvebak’s entry, “Searching for Rachel” features Niki Alexander, counselor for a teen shelter, who is desperately searching for a teenager taken by a sex trafficking ring.
Niki Alexander is back in “The Banditos of Telephone Road.”
In this short story, the teen shelter counselor is missing a troubled fourteen-year-old, and street smart Tori knows where to find her. More than a street in Houston, Telephone Road’s history has built its reputation for bad boys and danger.
In “A Shot of Courage” Niki Alexander helps a young girl discover the truth about her missing mother. Fifteen-year-old Vida didn’t know if her mother was dead or alive until a shot glass arrives from a shop in Austin. With the help of Niki Alexander, Vida follows the trail and finds more than she bargained for.
First appeared in Texas Gardener’s Seeds, the Weekly Newsletter for Texas Gardners
Lydia felt someone staring at her back as she contemplated the tangled mix of flowers and weeds that surrounded the abandoned mansion. Sweat dripped down her face from the morning’s effort and soaked the ends of her cropped hair. Her back and knees ached. She was getting too old for this.
She turned to see the teenager pressed against the ancient oak tree as if he hoped the trunk would split open and swallow him. His presence startled her even though she had been expecting him since morning.
“Jeremy? Don’t be shy. The garden won’t bite, I promise.”
Jeremy tugged up his baggy jeans and stepped out from under the shade of the tree into the noonday sun. He brushed his hand across the For Sale sign on the lawn.
Despite the Indian summer heat wave, he wore a long-sleeved sweatshirt with a hood covering his hair. A few dark spikes lay flattened against his forehead. His pale face looked as if it hadn’t seen the sun in a long time. Dirty fingers and long nails clutched the edges of his sleeves.
His untied brown shoes scuffed through fallen red and yellow leaves, and he looked everywhere except at her. “How long I gotta stay?”
Lydia glanced at her watch. “You’re scheduled for five hours a day until you’ve completed the community service portion of your probation. It’s twelve-thirty now and this garden must be ready to show in three days.”
He didn’t move.
“Jeremy, you won’t get anything done standing there. Your time doesn’t begin until you actually do some work.”
“I never done this before,” he said.
“Your family never had a garden?”
He shook his head. “We’ve always lived in apartments.”
Lydia beckoned to him. “It’s easy. Come, I’ll show you.”
He shuffled to her side.
She pointed to the flower bed. “This was once a show place. People came just to see the various roses and day lilies.”
“This?” An expression of disbelief crossed his face.
“Not like it is today. What you see here is the result of years of neglect. Once beautiful flowers, they were invaded and corrupted by weeds. Same thing happens to people.”
He gave her a sideways glance.
Lydia smiled. “It’s up to us to give them room to grow and soak up the sun. You ready?”
He nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
Looking at the boy, the scowl on his face, the pimples and dirt on his skin, Lydia wondered if this kid had known any beauty in his life.
“There are gardening gloves in that shed over there. You might also want to take off your sweatshirt. It gets mighty warm working out here.”
Jeremy trudged into the shed and came out still wearing the sweatshirt and holding the gloves. He sank to the ground and dropped the gloves.
“They work better if you wear them,” she said without looking at him.
He bent his head.
She didn’t press the issue. Instead, she showed him the weeds to pull and what flowers to leave alone. To her surprise, he learned quickly. She chastised herself for assuming the worst about the kid.
After a half hour of work, Jeremy dragged off the sweatshirt and wiped his face and neck with it, and put on the gloves.
After another hour, Lydia called time out. “I brought Gatorade. Let’s find some shade.”
He looked relieved, but said, “I coulda kept on.”
“I know. You’re a good worker, but I don’t want you burned out on your first day.”
They sat under the shade of the oak tree, and Jeremy pulled off the gloves. He gulped half the Gatorade before he set the bottle down. He leaned against the tree and closed his eyes.
“What did you do that brought you here?” Lydia asked, breaking a long silence between them.
He opened his eyes and looked down at his hands. “Stole some milk and bread from the store.”
“Why?” Lydia guessed the reason, but she had to ask.
“I – I lost the money my mom gave me.”
“It dropped along the way?” Lydia suggested.
Jeremy pulled his knees to his chest and rested his chin in his hands on top of them. “I guess so.”
“What do your parents do?”
“Mom’s a waitress at the café. Dad left when I was a kid.”
Lydia bit her lip. She’d heard so many stories like this, and they always broke her heart. She heard the pain of loss behind his words. “That’s rough. How are you doing in school?”
For the first time, his eyes glowed with pride. “Good.”
“Have you thought about getting an after-school job, say at the grocery store to help out?”
The light dimmed. “They won’t hire me now.”
“It’s worth a try. Might show Mike McGrath you’re trying to turn your life around by working for it. Mike’s a friend of mine. I could vouch for you.”
He looked at her in surprise. After a moment, he frowned. “What did you mean, the flowers are like people?”
She gazed at all they’d accomplished in the garden. “They both flourish with attention and love but wither from neglect.”
He considered this as he poked at a hole in his jeans.
“I have an idea,” Lydia said. “When we finish cleaning out the garden, would you like to plant a seed that you can nurture and watch grow? The new owners won’t mind. Would you like that?”
A smile inched across his face. The first one she’d seen. He nodded.
“Good.” Lydia smiled. “Now let’s get back to work.”
He stood and helped her to her feet. “Thanks, Miss Lydia. Nobody ever talked to me this way before.”
“You’ll come back tomorrow.” She narrowed her eyes. “Leave the sweatshirt at home, and you might think about a belt for those jeans.”