The Freezing Spray

He stepped inside, shook the snow from his jacket, and realized that everyone in the room was staring at him.” 

He headed to the coffee table and grabbed a Styrofoam cup. Cold sweat prickled under his hairline and his neck itched under the wool collar of his sweater.  He stirred the coffee slowly and waited. The whispering stopped. He jammed a chocolate donut hole into his mouth and gawked. He swallowed down the bile and chocolate crumbs with the tepid coffee.

He felt a soft hand on his back through his parka.

“Scott, we weren’t expecting to see you tonight but I’m sure glad you’re here,” said a hulking man with a rusty beard and soft voice.

He took another sip of his coffee. His phone vibrated in his pocket.

“What am I missing Rob? Is there news?” he asked. He pulled the phone out and saw his wife’s name, again. That was the ninth call today. He was glad of the patchy service on the boat. It gave him an excuse to avoid the crying and shouting.

Rob scratched his neck and glanced over his shoulder at the seated circle of men on folding chairs. He turned his back on the group.

“You’re the news today,” he said, “Christ we’re glad to see you – we thought something had happened to you on the boat. Caroline called-she told me you were missing.”

“I came in early, freezing spray.”

“She was pretty upset man,”

He interrupted Rob before he could say it, ”She’s just jumpy cause of the weather.”

It didn’t work. Rob continued, “You know what happened last time you went MIA…” Said it. He shoulders sunk further into his back as Rob straightened his, “You can’t blame her for worrying man.”

“Nope, I can’t blame her for worrying. Be right back, I’ll call her now,” he held up the phone for Rob to see. He climbed the basement steps in two strides and pushed the door with two hands.  He gulped the icy air and his sweat froze instantly on his neck and hairline. He watched the snow blow off the water across the road. His red fingers fumbled to unlock his phone screen. He dialed Travis’s number. “Hey, I’m either sleeping or elbow deep in bait. Send me a text.”

It had been ten days. Ten days since his last beer. Ten days since Travis missed his mother’s beef stew; his favorite. Ten days since Travis answered his call. Ten days since he missed his son’s call.

–Written for Maine Crime Wave Flash Fiction contest. The first line was written by Tess Gerritsen.