City of Secrets: Prologue

The cold morning air bit Zalinia’s cheeks as she stepped out onto her front porch, the chill creeping through her oversized North Face puffer coat and teal blue scrubs. Lake Erie had a way of intensifying the seasonal change; despite it being late August, autumn was already beginning to make its presence known. Pulling her cell phone out from her pocket, she saw that time was running short – 5:40 am, and her boyfriend, Jarel,  was still nowhere in sight. With less than seven minutes to make it to the bus stop if she wanted to make it work by 7:30.  Zalinia didn’t have time to wait around. She dreaded catching the city bus so early in the morning – the last time she had caught it this early, a homeless passenger had pulled his dick out and started playing with it right there on the bus, unable to be reasoned with until the driver threatened to call the police. Bracing herself against the cold, she dropped her cell in her bag, and made a run for it – she really didn’t want to be late.

She’d started working at the Seneca City Medical Examiner’s Office, as a Forensic Technician Assistant three months ago. A position she never would have applied for, thinking she wasn’t even close to being qualified for it. But someone had forwarded her an email about the opening, so she put in an application. She’d been shocked when they actually called her in for an interview and damn near fell out when she was offered the position. The place wasn’t fancy, but it paid more than she’d ever made. Hell more than her momma made being the lead housekeeper at the hotel she worked at.

The job also came with full tuition reimbursement, meaning that if she worked there long enough she could attend school for free! Zalinia wasted no time applying to Seneca University,  It was home to a respected Psychology department. So choosing that major seemed like the most logical decision. Her mama Violet, a hard ass who made it her mission to make Zalinia feel like a failure in aspects of her life, especially when it came to men—and everything else really—had even said she was proud of her right after she told her she has been accepted and that her job would pay for it. Even hugged her. 

Zalinia never realized how much hearing those words meant to her. She’d always told herself that her mother’s constant disapproval didn’t matter. The anger and resentment from the bad times they’d had as a child still burned within her as hot as ever. Both blame the other for their present state in life.

 But now, today, she longed to hear them again. Her dream was to get her and her mother out of the Lows.

It seemed like such a far-off dream, but she was determined to achieve it. Anything worth achieving was hard work. And she would do whatever it took to succeed.

Her mother hated Jerel, but her mother didn’t know what he’d done for her; he’d saved her from herself. He’d stopped her on the fucked up path she was easing down. Yeah, he was young so he did dumb shit like oversleep when he was supposed to take her to work but that was about it. 

She told Jarel, last night that if he went out with his friends, he would be tired and hungover to wake up to take her to work. He promised he wouldn’t.

Zalinia’s heart raced as she realized she had less than five minutes to get to the bus stop or she’d be late.

The bus came into view and Zalinia yelled, sprinting across the street only to breathe in a lung full of smog from the exhaust as it sped away from her. She screamed in frustration and kicked up gravel beneath her feet as tears welled in her eyes. The next bus wouldn’t come for another hour and she had no other option but to turn around and go home. Rummaging through her bag for her phone she tried calling Jarrell again, but the voicemail clicked on before the second ring.

She fumbled with her cell phone, her fingers trembling in rage as she dialed her supervisor to let her know that she would be running late. When the car pulled alongside her, there was a brief moment of apprehension before the passenger window rolled down and she saw his face. “What the fuck do you want?” she spat out through gritted teeth.

“I came to say I was sorry,” he said softly

Zalinia shook her head in disbelief and kept walking. He and his apologies. Empty words were all they ever were.

“Come on don’t be like that, look, let me take you to work, please..” She knew that getting into the car with him was a bad idea, but the bus wouldn’t come until 7 am and she did not want to be late. Despite the inner voice telling her not to, she opened the door and got in. It was 5:47 on a Sunday morning and it was the last time Zalinia Bradford was seen alive. 


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