Title: Amid the Haze
Series: Hazel & Maeve #2
Author: Jessica Cranberry
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 07/04/2023
Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary, genre fiction, contemporary, new adult, historical (early 2000s), bisexual, F/F, cisgender, college mystery, crime, suspense, law enforcement, police academy, slow burn, toxic masculinity, hazing, sports team, power imbalance, therapy
Maeve Drakos and Hazel Fischer continue their college journey, moving back to the city and starting the peace officer training program at the community college. They pick out their first apartment, and everything seems awesome. Until they meet the neighbors.
Members of Oakley University’s men’s lacrosse team live in the big house behind them. After many late-night parties and several instances of vandalizing the girls’ apartment, Maeve has had enough. She decides to confront them on their own turf. Except while there, she discovers team secrets far darker than broken windows and spray-painted walls. Yet they all insist it’s nothing—just tradition. The captain’s a nice guy; they’re all good guys. Yeah, no.
Maeve thought she and Hazel were supposed to be the perfect team—in more ways than one. But when she approaches Hazel about reporting the guys, Hazel doesn’t necessarily see what’s happening next door the same way. And she’s hardly ever home anyway, because she’s been spending loads of time with her friend Doug. All this leaves Maeve doubting herself and questioning everything she thought she understood so clearly their freshman year.
Yet there’s no time to figure anything out before Maeve and Hazel find themselves embroiled in another murder mystery. Who has time to care about a crush when there’s a rotting corpse in the basement?
Amid the Haze
Jessica Cranberry © 2023
All Rights Reserved
April 7, 2001
Cool blasts of April air blew her hair around the car, swirling around her head, whipping against my cheek every now and then. It had grown longer, the weight of it suppressing some of her natural wave. We were headed to Indy—just the two of us. Behind us had been hours and hours of nothing but long, straight road, pumping music, those crispy, fried, onion-flavored chips, and countless cigarette butts streaming out the windows as I drove full throttle across I-70. Acres of farmland surrounded us, mounded rows extending beyond the horizon, prepped for corn or soybean seed, until a new city emerged with tall buildings cutting through a span of sky and a falling orange sun. As we navigated through downtown, through the maze of asphalt and concrete, the open fields fell away as if they ceased to exist.
Hazel flicked the radio off and lit another cigarette. She’d started smoking again, and I wasn’t going to complain about it. That probably made me a shitty friend, but I was glad to have a smoking buddy.
“I brought you something.” I reached into the backseat blindly, keeping my eyes on the road, and felt around in my bag until my fingers grazed the thin pages of the city newspaper. “Check out page three.”
Hazel unfolded the Ledger Dispatch and found our story, the one Gayle Jackson had interviewed us for, detailing last autumn’s campus murder of Ryan Newsome (asshole and sexual predator, although most media outlets left those bits out) and how we’d pieced it all together…not totally unscathed.
“Good for her. She said she wasn’t going back to the Echo after they canned her last year.” Hazel carefully refolded the paper along the creases as if it contained nothing more than the crossword.
“You’re not gonna read it?”
“I know how it ends.”
Hazel hadn’t gone back to school after Newsome’s murderer attacked us. She needed time to heal—physically and emotionally. We all did. But I couldn’t escape the feeling something else was keeping her away, distant. Before today, I hadn’t seen Hazel since October, the morning I’d followed her into the police station to give a statement. We’d been emailing back and forth, but neither of us ever mentioned what had happened all those nights ago—what it had been like seeing her blood soak through her clothes, fear as thick as fog, a death so close you could taste it on the air like the salt and sand of a new shore. No, we’d skirted around all of that.
It didn’t stop me from wondering how she felt or what she thought about it. Hazel could be a bit of a mystery to me. Most folks I could see right through, not her. She kept everything wrapped up so tight inside herself, I didn’t think I’d ever break through. And maybe that was okay. Maybe even better than okay.
“I haven’t been in a real city for months. I forgot how pretty they can be,” she said. “All the bustling around. Life, I mean, you can see it happening.” Her cigarette bounced with the motion of her lips. She tucked it between her fingers and blew out a long, lingering exhale as though she’d been born knowing how to do that.
“Have you been here before?” I asked.
“As a kid, we hit up the children’s museum.”
“Yeah, when my parents… We used to live right on the border of Illinois and Indiana.”
I still couldn’t believe it took her so long to tell me what she’d lived through. But knowing the ways people have been hurt changed relationships—sometimes for the better, sometimes not. So I got it; she didn’t want pity anywhere near us.
“You’re a regular child of the corn, then, huh?” And this seemed to be how we handled the big traumatic things, poking fun around what caused the most pain. Joking. Deflecting. Sidestepping anything that hurt.
“I told you my middle name, didn’t I? It’s Malachi.”
I laughed and pressed the cigarette lighter. Hazel instinctively reached for the pack in the cup holders and got one out for me. I rolled down my window just as the lighter popped back up, its coils burning orange and hot.
“Do you know where we’re headed?” she asked.
“Not really. I printed out a MapQuest for it though. It’s in the glovebox.”
She took out the directions and spread the folded papers over her lap. “What street are we on?”
“We’re close. If you can find a place to park, do it.”
Brake lights glowed red in front of us. I slowed down and watched the last of the sunset, streaking pink and purple behind the high-rise buildings of the Midwestern city. The air smelled of exhaust. I followed the inching traffic into a parking garage.
“You think all these people are going to the same place we are?” Hazel asked.
“Maybe? She has a following.”
By the time I parked, night had fallen. Streetlights clicked on and cast the sidewalks in a tangerine glow. Hazel folded the directions and tucked them in her hoodie pocket.
We ended up not needing the map. A decent-sized crowd of mostly women seemed to all be going in the same direction. We just fit in and followed. As we got closer, a line had already formed, and we waited, stuck behind a rowdy group of college-aged kids with dark lipstick and short flowery dresses. They were probably the same age as Hazel and me. They seemed so much younger, though, with all the laughing and the squealing.
Hazel surveyed them; her right eyebrow cocked the way it always did when she tried to puzzle out someone’s behavior. I handed her the silver flask I’d slipped in my jacket pocket. Elbowing her, I told her to relax.
“I’m relaxed,” she said and took a swig of the peppermint schnapps.
Spring flowers and just…joy scented the air. Yeah, that was it. Joy. After such a dark year, I barely recognized the feeling. The line shuffled forward. Ani DiFranco’s name, in black block lettering, stood against the marquee’s glow.
“I can’t believe you scored tickets,” Hazel said.
“I told you we should go.”
Hazel’s expression lightened whenever I pressed Play on Living in Clip, and in the middle of all the shit that had gone down at school last fall, there’d been a notice in the paper about this tour. I figured right then and there I’d pay whatever price to get Hazel to this show if we made it out of that mess.
“I didn’t really think it would happen. Especially, in the middle of…everything.”
“So, how’ve you been dealing with all of that?” Asking was a risk, but I wanted to take it. While I gave her a pass on talking about her family, I needed to know about this because the nightmares hadn’t stopped for me. I still woke up in a sweaty panic, Shirlee’s glowing glasses disappearing and reappearing like pieces of the Cheshire cat.
Hazel shoved her hands into the pockets of her hoodie and stared at her feet. “Honestly, I don’t know that I am.” Her eyes met mine. “I just ignore it mostly.”
“Me too.” Time heals all wounds. Unless it didn’t.
She fiddled with her hair, braiding the ends absentmindedly. We moved forward a few more steps. At the double doors, security guards shined flashlights in purses and patted down coat pockets.
Hazel pushed her hair back from her face. “I feel kinda frozen in place, ya know?”
“Aunt Liddy says not to rush anything. That everything will settle back to normal in time. But what if it doesn’t?”
“Maybe this is the new normal.”
“They haven’t filled your space in our dorm yet. You could always come back.”
“No. I withdrew.”
She laughed in that self-mocking way she had sometimes. “You know I’m not meant to be anybody’s teacher.”
The thought of her surrounded by little kids made me laugh too. “There are other programs.”
She shook her head. “I don’t belong there. I knew it on day one. The only good thing that happened was meeting you and Doug.”
“You guys still talk?”
“Yeah, through email mostly. Like with you.”
“That’s cool.” But my heart said, Oh.
Meet the Author
Jessica Cranberry lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills and spends most days striking a balance between parenthood, teaching, and writing suspense novels or eclectic short stories. Learn more on Jessica’s website.